Two years ago, I had the opportunity to teach management subjects again at De La Salle University. Six months later I received a similar offst of De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. Armed with a decent internet connection, I accepted both offers on the condition that everything was done online only. I made it clear that as soon as face-to-face teaching was needed, I would stop teaching again. I was not yet willing to face the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and, as was the case when I stopped teaching in 2018, I was no longer willing to face the associated costs to transportation. I was blessed with the chance to teach again in the more convenient conditions of the fully online setup, but the challenges that came with it became apparent right away.
One of the challenges that stood out was the difficulty of getting to know my students individually. I believe that my reduced ability to individualize my teaching style and personalize interactional and motivational approaches meansIflittle affected my effeffectiveness as a learning facilitator. It’s quite differentIfcult of getting to know a person, let alone knowing how to effectively interact with and motivate a student, based solely on how the person uses the chat boxes. This is often a limitation teachers have to work with, as chat boxes are what many students, including those who claim to have internet connection issues, end up using as their primary means of class participation. .
This brings us to the next challenge: the tedious process of reading these chat boxes. I’ve had discussions in class where I couldn’t read answers to questions until half an hour after they were asked. This wasn’t due to a lack of attention to the chat box. If anything, I probably paid too much attention to it. It often happened that several replies and comments had to be tackled first, and it took just as long to go through all the implications and relevant parallel discussions that each chat message brought. Sometimes it felt like I was talking to myself for hours when no other voice wanted to be heard. I tried disallowing participation in the chat box, but ended up allowing it again after the deafening silence that followed. Knowing that the sessions are recorded and that their classmates would eventually have access to their sound clips, many students are hesitant to use their microphones. In too many cases, I’ve asked a question I would never ask face-to-face: “Are you there?”
Another significant challenge that accompanies the fully online setup is the difIfability to detect whether a student is physically and mentally present or not. At first, I conceded that I just couldn’t confirm their presence in synchronous sessions. It was too easy for students to park their names on online meetings while doing other things. Even when they didn’t answer when called, there were plenty of plausible excuses ready to be chosen. Despite this, students could choose to pay attention while watching the recording instead. On the other hand, the same cannot be said of the brainless face-to-face students who nod their heads at everything the teacher says without listening to a single word.
In addition, there are several subjects for which there is no adequate substitute for experiential learning and face-to-face interaction. Luckily, my subjects weren’t the type to know.ffered from the absence of such opportunities. Things have worked out pretty well regardless, and I think fully online courses should continue to be offered to students and teachers who prefer them.
Last month, I finally attended my first in-person academic activity of this decade when our department hosted an in-person meeting. A week later, I finally met one of my pandemic students in person. However, it happens to be a neighbor who joined our basketball session that day. It seems crazy to think that it took two years to meet just one student out of the hundreds I had taught online. This is the world we live in now.
As my current teaching internship draws to a close, I would like to thank everyone who has made these wonderful opportunities possible. Also, good health and good luck to all face-to-face teachers in all your future endeavours!
Engineer Rafael Gerardo S. Tensuan is a lecturer in the Department of Management and Organization at the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business at De La Salle University.