Forum: Give teachers time to adjust to teaching online

A pupil doing home-based learning at home.
A pupil doing home-based learning at home.ST PHOTO:ONG WEE JIN

As a teacher and coach familiar with both classroom and online teaching, I read with interest the letter by Mr Alex Tay (Simulate classroom environment for home-based learning, April 11).

Having taught in both public and private schools, and having school-going children of my own, I understand his concerns.

The lively interaction between teachers and students is the heart and soul of classroom teaching. Certainly, as far as possible, it should be preserved.

But Mr Tay might remember that these are unprecedented times. The transition from the classroom to an online platform is not merely physical but also conceptual. These constraints dictate changes to teaching approaches. Expecting to replicate online the conditions in a classroom setting is not realistic.

When a teacher attempts to teach his students online, he is likely doing so in a tiny study room or at his family dining table.

Most homes do not have whiteboards or flip charts for writing. Presentation slides flashed on a shared screen will not have the same impact, not because teachers are incompetent, but because they often have to toggle between screens to check that 35 student screens have not gone blank and the students are paying attention.

The lag in response time makes it all the more challenging to maintain active interaction.

If Mr Tay is familiar with online conferencing, he will know that not all the interaction happens in real time. When one speaks, it takes a few seconds for the other party to "receive" the message.

The immediacy in face-to-face interaction is something we take for granted.

Until this issue of time lag is resolved, simulating classroom conditions may be less important than, say, covering the syllabus on time.

We are still at the start of adjusting to home-based learning. The technical challenges are something both students and teachers continue to work on.

The transition from the classroom to an online platform is not merely physical but also conceptual. These constraints dictate changes to teaching approaches. Expecting to replicate online the conditions in a classroom setting is not realistic.

Teachers are sharing notes on how to modify delivery, content and pacing while learning to teach in the cyber medium. The sense of urgency is palpable. We are working to cover the curriculum our students need to ace their examinations. To that end, we have opened up our homes and sacrificed a bit of our privacy to conduct lessons of quality.

We ask only for time and trust so that we can deliver.

Vivienne Loh Hwei Chuen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2020, with the headline 'Give teachers time to adjust to teaching online'. Print Edition | Subscribe