-The possibility for a teacher to read from his student’s face if he is understanding or not, did not occur through the computer screen.
-In this series of three articles we are going to listen to the experience of a student who went from secondary education to the university during the pandemic, of a student of a health career, which requires practice with the patient, and of two university professors who have also lived through these experiences. These voices come from Venezuela and Argentina.
by Ana Isabel González Vásquez
July 2023. The first school year that could be called normal has just ended in most of the countries of the northern hemisphere, after the pandemic, which suddenly forced all nations to seek alternatives so that training activities could continue in all education levels. At this moment it is worth asking: what has been the result of this experiment, has the use of online education and its advantages and disadvantages been seriously evaluated? How many students got lost along the way and dropped out?
In a large part of the educational institutions, almost one hundred percent has returned to face-to-face education, but still in some, and in some levels and careers, the modality of distance education is maintained. Is this being remained as a vice? Or is it that it really brings some benefits that must be taken into account.
Can distance education be handled in the same way in basic education as in university activities? Is this modality valid for all types of disciplines? These and many other questions must be considered and attempted to be answered in the coming months by specialists and educational institutions.
We still do not know if those who have graduated as professionals from any discipline last year or this year, who are the ones who did the last two years of their career online, have the same professional quality as those who did their entire career in the classroom and in clinics, in the case of health professionals, or in the field, for other technical careers that require that essential on-site practice. All this remains to be seen.
The experience of distance education was also not the same for everyone. There were important differences that go through considering how prepared the educational institutions were to work in this modality, how prepared the teachers were, the equipment and technological resources that teachers and students had, the educational level in question, the stability and reliability of the electrical service and of the Internet connection in the place where the classes were given.
In this series of three articles we are going to listen to the experience of a student who went from secondary education to the university during the pandemic, of a student of a health career, which requires practice with the patient, which was difficult during the pandemic, and two university professors who have also lived through these experiences. These voices come from Venezuela and Argentina.
All these impressions can be useful when evaluating what we can learn from having to implement distance education forcibly for two years, what contributions this experience leaves us that we can incorporate now that the pandemic is over, and what details we should follow observing in these following years.
Teachers could no longer read the faces of their students
Distance education offers a series of pedagogical resources, many of which are unknown to teachers. Most of them had to jump on the virtual education bandwagon without any preparation. They simply gave the same classes they gave in the classroom, but now in front of the camera and the computer microphone. On the other hand, the students also had to get used to communicating through the computer or the telephone with their teacher.
-The first thing we felt that we lost was the immediacy of the response- tells us Juan Andrés Monascal, who had to finish his high school studies in a pandemic.
In addition, direct contact was lost that allowed the teacher to simply look at the faces of his students and find out if they had understood or if he should generate some other type of dynamic that would allow them to capture the information that was being transmitted to them.
For Juan Andrés, it was a very radical change to stop having the teacher in front of him and have him through a screen.
–I think that the brain took time to assimilate this situation, to accept receiving information in this way. Many people felt that they weren’t learning anything, that they weren’t left with anything, because being glued to a screen listening without interacting with other people tires, it’s exhausting, boring, you get distracted, you start looking at social networks…
-But it turns out that we were learning, but in a different way. The knowledge was absorbed, perhaps in a less intense way, with more delay, and required more effort on our part.
Another important difference, says Juan, was the time to receive feedback. Because when you are in face-to-face class and you have a question, you raise your hand and the teacher answers, or explains in another way, or you will go to the blackboard. During the pandemic this was more difficult. If you wanted to ask a question you had to make sure you had a microphone available on the computer, if not, you wrote the question in a chat, which sometimes the teacher didn’t read.
-The immediacy of the response was one of the things that I felt weakened the most, if you had a question about a task you were not sure that the next day you would see your teacher to ask him, you had to wait for the WhatsApp chat delivery time response, and if it was over the weekend it was worse – recalls Juan.
-What I missed about virtual education was the immense ease there was to obtain extra, additional information, at the time of evaluations, activities. If you had an exam or an assignment, you simply opened the internet and googled the topic or the question and there were millions of articles and you went around answering the exam.
-In the face-to-face modality you had a teacher watching over you so you didn’t cheat and you had to put all the knowledge you had into the exam, okay, that was the traditional way, but it was wonderful to be able to always discover new information very easily.
This Venezuelan student began his university education this year at the National Experimental University of the Arts, in Caracas. He has now three hours of face-to-face classes a week and six hours of virtual classes. That is to say, only one of the subjects that he sees he studies in person. The other two continue in virtual system. Why? Is it a vice that was left over from the pandemic?
The greatest source of information is still the professors
Despite the fact that he has had to study online quite intensively, Juan Andrés considers that the greatest source of information is still the professors.
-Teachers are the pillars of education, but we discovered that one has a great facility for looking for extra information. To study a career obviously you need a teacher, a professional in that discipline to guide you along the way so that you can train, but through the internet, although it is much more complicated, you could do it too. I might say you could study a career on your own just for internet because the information is there.
-Many professionals have written articles about everything your teacher could be telling you at this moment. But the fact that they explain to you, that they are interested in the fact that you understand, is one of the greatest strengths of having a teacher. Now, I got to classes, and with the information I receive from my teacher I spread it through the internet. But my main source of information will never be the internet.