Teaching in the age of social distancing and COVID-19

Teaching in the age of social distancing and COVID-19

by Cord A. Scott, PhD
Stripes Okinawa

One of the biggest shifts for people in the world today has been the consequences of social distancing.  It has affected people in a myriad of ways, from concert attendance to going to restaurants, to public gatherings.  Perhaps one of the most trying aspects for many has been in the educational field.  On all levels, teachers of all grade levels have been suddenly thrust into the realm of distance instruction through video platforms such as Zoom.  This has invited a variety of novel approaches, as well as further issues.

For many the shift was sudden, and problematic.  How does one adapt to a new platform, seeing students but at the same time getting them to focus on the matter at hand, instead of surfing or engaging on other social media platforms for which they are engaged?  Technology has proven to be both the solution, and the exacerbation of the problem of social distancing and education. First, the system showed some severe problems when used in a mass format.  Hackers, known as zoombombers, hacked into meetings for the simple purpose of disruption, often through racial, vulgar, or even pornographic images and comments.  Some instructors who are used to interaction, as well as a more immediate control of the classroom (and the monitoring of the use of electronic media by students), have found the systems to be difficult or even counter to the education of their students.

For the college level instructors here in Asia, this shift was far less jarring.  The author has used streaming systems for several years to teach to remote sites in Korea. The system has worked, and has allowed students to engage in some semblance of face-to-face instructions when they may not have otherwise had the opportunity.

At the same time, the technology has shown glaring deficiencies.  Many students have complained that the system is not the same as being in the room.  While students may ask questions of the instructors, the delays are such that the students done feel as connected as they may be in a classroom.  The fact that they are in their home has also created distractions for them as well as the instructors.  It is far too easy to drift into habits of checking social media, listening to music, or having interruptions from phones, pets or animals.

For the instructors, the platforms of instruction have allowed students to see power points, videos or other forms of media to augment the classes.  The fear expressed by teachers is that of students not truly understanding the material. Students have also expressed that if they are required to learn much of the material without experts to guide them, then why have teachers at all?  Additionally, some instructors worry that this new platform will mean more cuts to teaching staff, by merging classrooms into more disparate locations.

Finally, there has been the commentary of some that there is a better appreciation of the work that teachers do.  The tired adage is “those who can, do; those who can’t teach.” However, in this new era of social distancing and remote learning, parents now both work from home as well as teach their children.  This shift into de facto teaching is historical in one regard (parents, primarily mothers, were expected to teach children the basics at home when there was no public school system until the 1840s), and experiential in another.  The teacher is far more important, and their work better understood. I hope that they will be appreciated as well. Without teachers, there would be no medical staff, or engineers, or anything else. This crisis has shown that we are ALL important within society.

Cord A. Scott has a Doctorate in American History from Loyola University Chicago and currently serves as a Professor of history for the University of Maryland Global Campus in Asia.  He is the author of Comics and Conflict, as well as Four Colour Combat.  He has written for several encyclopedias, academic journals such as the International Journal of Comic Art, the Journal of Popular Culture, the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, and is in several books on aspects of cultural history.  His most recent work is on US military cartoons in WWI, which was published in the Journal of War, Literature and the Arts. He resides in South Korea.

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