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AcademicsThree positive lessons from my experience of virtual teaching

Like many schools and universities in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to completely change our traditional teaching methods to an entirely online learning environment.

Although I have always been in favor of the creation of online teaching modules, the reality of moving to online learning still posed many challenges. The shift happened quickly, without much time to prepare. After several months of distance learning, teaching students from all over the world, here are my three key learnings:

 

1. Colleagues started talking again, listening to each other, sharing ideas and examples.

I don’t think I have ever spoken to my colleagues as much as I did during the two weeks of preparation before the return of our students to virtual classes. And it wasn’t just my academic colleagues, but our IT experts too. For each of us, this was a new challenge. Academics had to listen to IT in order to master new communication tools quickly, efficiently, and consistently. The IT department had to listen to the needs of the lecturers and evaluate how to transfer some class activities from the real world to the virtual classroom. I am not saying we did not speak to each other before, but our communication primarily centered around solving daily problems (printer problems, forgotten passwords...).

Within the academic team, I also felt there was a less hierarchical approach. Lecturers with more experience in distance education, or those who had used more features in our learning management system, voluntarily guided others. All for one, one for all!

I was also pleasantly surprised by the solidarity between schools, first of all within our company, but also abroad. Rivalries between international schools were forgotten, and free webinars sprung up everywhere so that we could exchange ideas and solutions for online learning.

 


Virtual Learning

Photo credit: Rodnae productions from Pexels

 

2. We designed a more student-centric learning experience

One of our biggest constraints was that our students are based all over the world, and we needed to take time difference into consideration. Before COVID-19, students came to class, followed the same timetable, and the same absenteeism rules applied to everyone. Now, we have to adapt to each person’s situation, to design asynchronous and synchronous lessons.

This meant I started to explore our Learning Management System in more detail in order to find tools to monitor students’ progress and give them more autonomy in their learning. This is an ongoing process, and something I would never have undertaken if we hadn’t been forced into this situation.

The feedback from students in this regard has also been positive: they appreciate the work done by lecturers to maximize their virtual learning experience, and they value this more personalized approach. Of course, there is sometimes a lack of human warmth, but when we all find ourselves online together, we take great pleasure in sharing ideas and opinions. I feel that the time spent with the teacher is now more valuable than before.

 

3. We have become more humble, as we all start to learn again

Now, we are all learners. The road is still long and strewn with pitfalls. As lecturers, we have to question our delivery methods and our course content, and we have to find new ways to engage with our students. Students have also had to review their learning methods: they have to spend more time in front of screens, and instill self-discipline.

We are only at the beginning of this adventure, and although we all hope for an improvement in the worldwide health situation, this experience has changed our perception of distance learning. Each student, each lecturer, each school is currently developing new skills. We have learnt – and are continuing to learn – new things about ourselves and about others.

"Paradoxically, while we are now obliged to respect social distancing rules, we have also never had to give so much thought to others, their well-being, and their positive learning experience."

There is a real holistic dimension to what we are all experiencing.

 

Claire Jollain is the Assistant Dean at Hotel Institute Montreux.

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