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  • Writer's pictureMaciej Workiewicz

Online Teaching During the Pandemic: Insights and Lessons Learned

For those of us who had to either learn or teach during a pandemic, online teaching was the only option. For many of us, that was the first time we tried. Having read and talked to others about it, the experiences have been mixed, with a healthy split between those who liked online teaching and learning and those who didn't. While instructors I talked to generally preferred in-person teaching over online (which in turn is better than hybrid), students were more diverse in their feedback.

Digging Deeper into Students' Opinions:

Given the fact that I had access to students who were taking classes at ESSEC before, during, and in the aftermath of the pandemic, I decided to dig deeper into their opinions about online teaching. Here is what I found.

First, some data. 76% of students reported their experience with online learning as worse or somewhat worse compared with in-person. 15% judged it as the same and 9% as somewhat better. No respondents evaluated it as simply better.

Negative Feedback

Among the negative feedback, students wrote:

  • “I believe that online learning can make a student slack off and also tire them out because of excessive use of digital tools.”

  • “[I] missed the opportunity to practice public speaking skills, which is highly important in the future work environment.”

  • “I personally don’t like online learning, because this is super hard to stay focused, to avoid looking at your phone or lying on your bed or just thinking about something else and once you are out, it is impossible to focus again on the class.”

  • “As someone with ADHD, it's extremely difficult to continue paying attention during online classes. I've struggled with it every time a session went online.”

  • “After 2 years of online classes, my attention span dropped to 5 minutes as the temptation to multitask is too high.”

Positive Points

But there were also some positive points mentioned:

  • “I love online learning because it brings me closer to the professor and can save so much commute time. However, what we lose is the casual networking that can bring magic to life.”

  • “Very convenient, but it’s tempting to do something else at the same time.”

  • “I missed teaching in physical form in classes and it was good to be back in the class. However, I feel a good mix of both could be an ideal way to go.”

  • “Online learning is more effective when it comes to courses such as VBA, Python, and Excel.”

  • “[online learning] works well if you are not interested in the subject.”

I was especially intrigued by the last point. It is possible that this attitude is responsible for some favorable opinions about online education among students?

Technology vs. Content

Next, I asked the students about the importance of technology that course instructors used in affecting their experience with online teaching. I asked them to evaluate the importance of technology compared to a proper adaptation of course material. About half (49%) judged both as equally important. There was also more or less an equal split between those that considered that content (27%) and technology (24%) were more important in affecting students' overall experience with online learning.

Best and Worst Practices

Students also shared the best practices they observed in the classroom (insert examples here)

  • Efficient and seamless use of Breakout Rooms

  • Clear instructions and strict implementation of rules (require students to turn on cameras)

  • Interactive content, polls, games, and simulations

  • More breaks (including mini 5-minute breaks), consider shorter classes

  • Using software to make classes more interesting and visually appealing

  • Share screen/presentation during class and write on the slides and share the slides after

And the worst practices

  • Poor internet connection on the lecturer's side

  • Cameras off (the dark well of doom)

  • Obliging students to turn cameras on, but the class is simply a monologue and a reading of slides

  • No time to ask questions, no Q&A, and poor responses to questions

  • Removing group interactions and exercises from the curriculum

  • Not sharing the slides after the class

  • Cold-calling students (hmmm... that last one may be generally students' least favorite, regardless of the mode of teaching)

Lessons Learned

Finally, I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned from the online experiment during the pandemic:

  • Software and hardware can make a huge difference. Eye candy matters!

  • Make sure to get the basics right - lights, camera, microphone, multiple screens (a TV can work too), tablet for writing

  • There is no bottom when it comes to gadgets. Go as far as you feel comfortable with or can afford (my school covered my costs)

  • Get the best Internet connection you can (wires beat waves)

  • Request students' cameras to be turned on

  • Breakout rooms are your friend. Use them.

  • Have a pre-teaching checklist (see my other post for an example)

  • Relax. Some things will crash or not work well. Keep calm and have backup solutions. Students appreciate your effort in any case.

While online teaching during the pandemic presented its challenges, we can learn from the experience to improve and adapt our teaching methods. While hopefully we won't be visited by another pandemic any time soon (fingers crossed) I observed that the amount of online teaching generally increased and is often used to supplement in-person teaching. I thought that sharing my lessons learned can help create better online learning experiences for our students.

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