Online teaching catches on

Hong kong schools are still operating on a half-day basis, with schools adopting remote teaching during the afternoon in the hope of fully resuming classes.

Some researchers say that online teaching should continue, not only because the epidemic will not be over for a while, but also because the positive effects of online education are gradually being seen.

Nancy Law Luk Wai-ying, deputy director of the Centre of Information Technology in Education at the University of Hong Kong, suggested that educators expand their professional networks and improve online teaching and learning practices.

Law’s suggestions came after new results of HKU’s eCitizen Education 360 study – a comprehensive survey on the experiences and needs of primary and secondary schools during school suspension and resumption – were released.

After releasing the first-phase results in July and the second in August, the third set released last week focuses on teachers’ online teaching experience during the school suspension period and sheds light on how to help them better prepare for the new normal.

The research showed two thirds of the primary and secondary school teachers surveyed agree that online learning has positive effects and wish to keep the mode after face-to-face classes resume.

Researchers polled 836 teachers from 50 schools between June and July and categorized them into four types of online learning attitudes.

Fifteen percent belonged to “progressive innovators” who embraced online learning and have the highest inclination to keep the virtual classroom after the resumption of face-to-face classes, as it has the potential to cater to learner diversity through remedial or enrichment provisions and support self-directed learning.

Almost half (49 percent) were labeled “cautious explorers,” meaning they were willing to continue to teach online despite seeing both its advantages and shortcomings.

The rest – categorized as “conservative explorers” or “traditional instructors” – showed no interest in using online tools once they could teach face-to-face classes again.

Law said teachers’ attitudes toward online learning were quite good overall, adding “while they realize it has negative effects, many are still willing to try new things.”

“Our primary and secondary students now will be the pillars of our society and digital global citizens in the coming decades,” she said. “As educators, we shoulder more important responsibilities than ensuring curriculum coverage. What really matters is the willingness to keep pace with the times.”

The research also found that “progressive innovators” were significantly more active – particularly when compared with “traditional instructors” – in collaborating with colleagues in making online teaching arrangements, particularly in sharing and joint development of online pedagogies, using digital resources for interactive learning and using instant messaging and videoconferencing software to teach and communicate with students.

The researchers also found that most of the teachers possessed basic online teaching skills, such as using Zoom. But they faced obstacles when providing feedback to students online, assessing pupils’ ability to use online learning tools and collecting information from students to improve their teaching.

Law said that one way to help teachers adapt to online platforms is to encourage mutual support among them, as “teachers are inclined to be influenced by their peers, just like students.”

The research recommends that the policy and school leaders join hands to expand the professional network among teachers and schools, while teachers use opportunities offered by support networks, paying particular attention to designing and implementing student-centered and interactive online learning.

Though there’s a slightly higher proportion of young teachers under 30 in the class of “progressive innovators,” there are no significant differences in teachers’ distribution among the four categories concerning their teaching experience and school levels. In other words, all teachers have the potential to become a “progressive innovator.”

Law said that if most teachers become “progressive innovators,” it would be more effective to promote teaching development in schools. Conversely, if there are too many “traditional instructors,” the challenge of school leadership may be higher.

“The pandemic will eventually pass. The challenge for our society and our schools is whether we can seize the opportunity to effectively enhance our online teaching preparedness and enable more of our teachers to become ‘progressive innovators.'”

(This article was published at The Standard on November 10, 2020: Education: Online teaching catches on )

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