Sunday, September 20, 2020

Rezooming the academic year




In a one month, after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, I will begin another year of teaching English to engineering students, my 28th year, at the Braude School of Engineering in Karmiel, Israel.  Unlike last autumn and those previous, I will not be meeting them personally as circumstances require remote teaching through Zoom. Last semester, both students and teachers worldwide got acquainted, as intimately as possible, with this technology but it was like a first date, fraught with tension and nervousness. This time, we will be meeting as old friends, with some knowledge and comfort with each other. As it is considered wisdom to focus on the blessings you enjoy rather than the momentary shortcomings, teaching through Zoom does have its advantages for teachers and students.

Teachers will certainly enjoy the both the familiarity with the technology and distance from the students. After one full semester experimenting with the options and techniques for presenting various types of material, it will be a pleasure to begin a semester with reasonable certainty in regards to the pedagogical approach. In simple language, starting every lesson fearing potential technical issues is quite tiring. Teachers now have the basics down. Furthermore, while non-traditional, the physical distance from the students is also non-emotional. Zoom teaching is vedi, vici, exii, I came, I conquered, I exited. Teachers have very little emotional contact with the students. While this lack of human touch reduces the effectiveness of teaching, it also significantly reduces the weight of personal preferences in issuing grades, i.e., the students are mainly just faces. On a more important note, at least for college students, it places almost the entire responsibility for learning on the students in terms of their focus during and beyond the Zoom sessions. The role of the teacher is heavily limited to preparing proper explanatory material and providing understandable explanations. The rest is on the students.

They also gain in terms of being allowed to study according to their personal style. Every student has a preferred way of learning and reviewing material. Some requires extreme focus to grasp and remember while others learn more through osmosis, their brain absorbing the material as they play with their phone or do crosswords (the latter was my particular style). In the latter case, as this seeming distain tends to annoy flesh-and-blood lecturers, Zoom lessons allow them to do whatever they want during the lesson without causing offense. Moreover, they are able to go to the bathroom or get a sandwich without asking permission or disturbing other students. For slower-grasping learners, the recorded Zoom lessons create an opportunity to absorb one point at a time or reinforce key points. Clearly, Zoom is a boom for certain types of learners.

Both teachers and students benefit from the convenience and economic impact of Zoom. Nobody can argue that commuting to college is fun, whether in terms of time or parking spots. Most colleges suffer from a terrible lack of parking spaces. As for the hours, how many students really enjoy 8 o’clock classes, morning or evening? Even when the classes are being given at those hours, once the camera is turned off, students do not have to be present, whether physically or mentally, nor do teachers have to enforce active presence, a relief for both parties. Most importantly, Zoom allows the show to go on despite the Corona.  Even one year without schooling, regardless of the level, would be an educational and professional disaster for students and financial disaster for teachers. Zoom allows a semblance of continuity.

I am fully aware of the disadvantages and difficulties involved in Zoom teaching both for teachers and students. However, I am also aware of the millions of people that have lost their livelihood and businesses due to the Corona virus. I therefore choose to join Bing Crosby, the Andrew Sisters and Johnny Mercer, to name a few, and accentuate the positive and resume teaching with a smile.

* Caption pictures to allow the blind to fully enjoy your posts. Picture: Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3151078">Photo Mix</a> from <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3151078">Pixabay</a>

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