Online Education

Mixed success for distance learning and pathways to the future

By Serge Gérin-Lajoie and Cathia Papi, TÉLUQ University

In the spring of 2020, the world of education plunged into distance learning. Since then, one would expect that the quality of online training has improved. However, while some teachers are successful, others are less successful, at the expense of the students.

It must be said that even though this type of training was undergoing rapid and constant development, especially in higher education, before COVID-19, most students and teachers were caught off guard.

Faced with this extraordinary situation, the teaching staff tried their best, but with mixed results. Likewise, students had to learn in an unusual context.

As specialists in distance education, we are interested in the deployment of this method of education and in the support of interested parties. After more than a year, we find that the quality of online training is still uneven.

crisis teaching

First, as we can read in the book Handbook of Distance Education for College and University Education, published in September 2020 by a group of education researchers: “Teaching during the pandemic was not really distance learning. It was teaching in a crisis.”

Creating great courses both in-person and remotely takes time, training, and coaching. And beyond courses, it takes an entire ecosystem of life and support surrounding learning for students to persevere and succeed. In reality, distance learning cannot be improvised.

The government of the exposed

Some institutions have required their professors to replace all scheduled teaching hours with “synchronous” online classes, that is, classes offered to everyone at the same time, live, via video call.

Knowing that the average duration of a person’s concentration or sustained attention is about 15 minutes, we can understand that after 30 minutes some students pick up and close the camera. For students who take several courses this way, it’s like asking them to listen to a movie on loop for an entire week!

In fact, it would be possible to keep students’ attention by changing the pace, getting their participation and leading them to do engaging learning activities. However, an online course script is often not as detailed as a program or movie script might be; the teacher presents the content. It is therefore not surprising that the motivation and concentration of students on distance learning courses declines, or they prefer to listen to the recordings again at a time that suits them.

In the classroom, the ability to focus is not better, but the teacher can use different strategies to keep their attention.
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In the classroom, the ability to focus is not better – students are browsing social media, consuming or playing online – but the teacher can use different strategies to keep their attention, such as changing the volume or tone. and intervene to bring the student to order. It is much more difficult to act like this from a distance.

Create an event

what to do then? First, we can ask whether it is necessary for the course to contain the same number of synchronous sessions as if it were offered face-to-face.

For example, we can use one of the strengths of this type of distance learning to interact, ask questions, and provide instant feedback to students. On the other hand, you can take advantage of “asynchronous” training with reading or watching videos. Thus, the student can learn at his own pace and find time for in-depth reflection.

In other words, we need to ensure that the meetings are unmissable events and not just bet that these meetings will teach the students. Additionally, these sessions must be scripted and prepared, just like your favorite TV series might be.

A sense of presence, a great absence

A study conducted by two professors from the University of Aix-Marseille showed that 61.2% of students feel that distance learning reduces the exchange between them and almost 70% of students say that they communicate much less with their teachers.

A student quoted in a Radio-Canada report last fall said that of her five courses, two were delivered entirely from PDF documents without any interaction with her teachers. “$1,800 for PDF lessons seems expensive to me,” she said.

These comments clearly illustrate the students’ sense of isolation, while recognizing that supervision and support are essential dimensions of distance learning.

This supervision must be proactive and reactive to create a sense of presence nurtured by the teacher but also by other students. It must promote greater closeness between all.

Supervising students is not just answering emails, but also planning interventions to promote motivation, encourage interactions through questions and reduce assessment anxiety, throughout the course. Not taking the time to consider this aspect in a distance learning course is to fall into one of the main pitfalls of taking a distance learning course in person.

No more cheating

Several workers in the field of education are of the opinion that plagiarism and cheating are more common at a distance than in the classroom. However, the latest studies on this topic show that this is not the case. In fact, there would be as many, if not fewer, when the proposed assessments are adapted to distance learning. If the number of cases seems to have increased with the pandemic, it is probably also due to attempts at “simple” remote transpositions of attendance assessments (exams, oral presentations) without trying to counter plagiarism and cheating.

Designing assessments in a distance learning course is a great opportunity for innovation. Digital tools can be used to enable students to demonstrate their skills, know-how and skills in the context of reflection, discussion, analysis and judgement. Thus, it is possible to implement richer and more complete assessment contexts than simply being limited to multiple-choice or essay questions.

In fact, remote assessments can be segmented and easier to focus on delivery processes instead of outcomes. Distance learning makes it possible to go further in assessing learning without increasing the burden of corrections, reducing opportunities for cheating and plagiarism at the source.

Solutions to known pitfalls

Fortunately, there are known ways to avoid the pitfalls associated with distance learning. Teachers must be trained and supported. They must also be given time to design their distance learning course. In addition to the friendliness of teachers and students, it would make it possible to design more durable and high-quality teaching materials.

More effective techno-pedagogical tools would allow teachers to go further than traditional presentation-based pedagogy. Distance learning, whether synchronous or asynchronous, has known advantages, provided it is used well to benefit teachers and especially students.Conversation

Serge Gérin-Lajoie, Professor, TELUQ University and Cathia Papi, Professor, CURAPP-ESS, TELUQ University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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