Regardless of your profession, the pandemic has probably significantly impacted both your personal and professional life. As a teacher, this year has been extremely challenging for me. I feel I have been “Zooming” around an unfamiliar race track, not really knowing where the track is leading me. Many teachers around the world have been teaching virtually, whether it is all students or a hybrid model. Our school is using a hybrid model, meaning I teach some classes online while I teach others in person. The platform we use is Zoom, which is similar to other web-based communication platforms like Microsoft Teams and Google Meets. There are some amazing opportunities that these platforms provide, while simultaneously creating a new set of challenges. Let’s consider the pros and cons of these platforms in the realm of education and beyond.
Web-based communication platforms like Zoom allow teachers to see, interact, and connect with students. If organized well, virtual classes can be extremely effective. I use my laptop, as well as a second monitor. My laptop is almost always in “presentation” mode, so students can see the materials and slides they need. The second monitor, which is connected to my laptop, is maximized so I can see most, if not, all of my students while my laptop is still in presentation mode. There are always a couple of students who don’t turn their cameras on, but that is a separate conversation altogether. As a Physical Education teacher, much of their learning is done by actually performing a skill. Using the second monitor allows me to see nearly all of my students so I can give them feedback on the skill, via chat or verbally. To begin the year and to build a community virtually, we did an activity where they were to run to bring back something important to them, as a “Show and tell.” I saw and heard about many of their parents, pets, and toys, none of which I would have been able to see in an in-person, “normal” school day. This helped strengthen relationships because I could then talk with those students in future lessons about what they showed us. If this pandemic happened 30 years ago before this technology, what would teachers and families do to stay connected?
Most standards and content can stay *somewhat* normal. Obviously, there will be content that is extremely challenging to teach virtually. Students might not have access to certain supplies or equipment. However, if we are intentional and creative in our planning, we can have students using common items that they have around the house to help us meet objectives. For example, today we were tossing and catching rolled up socks (which can replace a ball). We have also used a bottom of a shoe to work on striking, taking the place of a paddle. I was so proud of students for being open-minded and willing to try new items. Being able to see the students gives it more of a “normal” feeling, despite being in different areas.
The convenience of scheduling meetings: I have been able to collaborate with colleagues in different cities, states, and even countries because of Zoom. I have learned a lot from these discussions, that I might not have considered before the pandemic. Zoom makes it convenient for many to engage from their home or office. There are times, however, that the ease and “convenience” of scheduling a Zoom meeting lead to having unnecessary meetings. At times, these take much of our prep period and time before or after school that we would normally have to plan. Much of the information that we share on Zoom have previously been shared through emails, which we could read at our convenience.
Beyond teaching, these platforms allow families and friends to stay connected. My family lives all around the country. Due to the pandemic, we haven’t been able to meet in person for a year. Since March, we have started weekly “Family Zooms”, which we haven’t done previously. This has become a tradition that we all get excited about. This silver lining has connected us far better than we were before. Each member of the family gets to chat for 5-10 minutes about anything new going on in their life. Once everyone gets a chance to share, then we joke around with each other and have fun. It’s interesting that we had to wait until there was a global pandemic to actually connect via Zoom.
Too much screen time: Many students (and adults) engage in too much daily screen time as it is. With these platforms, many students are staring at a screen for 7 hours a day. Then, they often play video games after virtual learning ends. Even for me, it’s important that I regulate my time on Zoom, which will help me from getting burned out. To encourage students to get away from their computers, I occasionally have them go on “Scavenger hunts” to finish a class. Students would go outside with a parent/guardian to touch things like a sign, mailbox, tree, car, etc. This gets them active, while away from the screen. They would then tell me how they did and what they found in the next class.
Not equitable for all students: Some students need extra help that isn’t possible through web-based communication platforms. Special Education and IEP’s can be extremely challenging. Some families also have many distractions around the house that might prevent them from learning as much as other students through Zoom (family members bothering them, noisy learning space, sharing a computer, etc.). Some students don’t have access to Wi-Fi. Even if all students are logged on, they often experience issues with technology (microphone problems, internet cuts out, the videos get choppy, etc.).
My “two-cents”: Web-based communication platforms certainly don’t compare to in-person instruction or visiting with friends and family in-person. However, they do provide MANY positives. I am so grateful to be able to “see” my students, my family, and my friends, all while staying safe. For some, Zoom is all they have since school closed. It’s important to remember that the building is closed, but school is still in session and Zoom is our classroom. Our goal is to be as authentic in the Zoom classroom as we are in person. We may need a few pit stops to regroup along the way, and that’s ok. Remember that the goal or destination hasn’t changed, we just might be taking a different route.