It was February 2020 when I found myself panicking slightly after knowing that I had to deliver a mass e-lecture for over 170 students enrolled in NIE’s Management and Leadership in Schools (MLS) programme. While I am not totally clueless about technology, I am definitely not the most tech-savvy person around. To better prepare myself for the challenge of teaching online, I jumped into action and booked an appointment with my colleagues (namely Mr Abdul Kamal Bin Ahmed, Mr Lim Kian Seng and Mr Cheng Kok Hua) to learn how to conduct synchronous lessons via Blackboard and Webex. In addition to walking me through the functions of the platforms, my colleagues also demonstrated how the infrastructure of iSpace work.
With their help and support, I managed to conduct my first synchronous mass lecture smoothly via Blackboard Collaborate. This “debut” gave me greater confidence in conducting virtual lessons for my other classes that followed.
The Start of Digital Teaching
Digital teaching was a refreshing experience for me. While I was anxious over the possible connectivity issues that could affect the quality of my course delivery, I was also heartened to receive feedback that a group of students appreciated seeing my face on screen as it added a human touch to our virtual interaction. Similarly, I was delighted to see my students’ faces and/or hear their voices in the mysterious virtual world. It was comforting to know that I was not merely talking to a screen; I was also personally connected to my students.
My students were also patient with me as I explored the different functions of Blackboard. I recall struggling to get everyone back into the main room when I created virtual breakout groups the first time. Fortunately for me, my students were very understanding. A wave of delirium swept over me when I eventually figured things out in my second attempt.
Benefits of Virtual Platforms
The use of virtual platforms reshaped classroom dynamics in an intriguing manner. I noticed that students used the chat function rather actively during the synchronous sessions, be it posing a question, reflecting on the course content or cracking a joke.
In the real world, such “interjections” in face-to-face communication may derail classroom discussion and bring a frown to our faces. In the virtual world, however, it was exciting for me to see students’ concurrent responses as this revealed that they were reflecting on the course content, creating valuable opportunities to extend our classroom discussion.
The multi-way interactions in the chat room gave me greater insights into students’ understanding of and views towards certain topics discussed. It was also encouraging to see how students responded to one another spontaneously and independently without my deliberate facilitation. Quite a number of them appeared to be getting used to this new normal and the chat room served as a platform for them to bond with one another.
Uniting in Adversity
It is also fascinating to know what NIE colleagues are doing in their professional endeavors. For example, Dr Tay Hui Yong (Learning Sciences and Assessment [LSA] Academic Group at NIE) created a video on tips to help children with dyslexia during the home-based learning period. Dr Vahid Aryadoust (English Language and Literature [ELL] Academic Group) launched a Learn with Experts series on the Statistics and Theory YouTube channel. Peers at LSA Academic Group also started the Home-based Learning Support Group on Facebook. Last I checked, the group had over 6,500 members! Inspired by the many exciting happenings around me, I eventually created my first video using Lumen5. (A big thank you to NIE’s IN-Learning Video Team for the videobites!)
Outside of NIE, I am glad to be able to work with fellow educators in enriching students’ home-based learning experience. On 24 April 2020, I interacted with about 80 participants (comprising both teachers and students) from Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School at a virtual meet-the-author session where I discussed my short story published earlier this year.
From designing the pre-event activity on the Student Learning Space (SLS), conceptualizing the session, organizing the technical rehearsal, facilitating the interaction to handling post-event matters, the teachers invested many hours behind this one-hour enrichment activity. I was very impressed by their dedication to curating a meaningful home-based learning experience for their students. Kudos to the team especially Ms Lea Shu Hui (Vice-Principal), Mr Zhang Xinwen (Senior Teacher/Chinese Language) and Mr Teo Kian Wee (Subject Head/Chinese Language) for coordinating this event.
Challenging but Rewarding
The past months have been challenging but rewarding. In summary, my personal reflection on my home-based experiences is encapsulated in the following acronym: T.E.A.C.H.
The pandemic really pushed me to adapt quickly by upgrading my ICT skills while leveraging NIE‘s facilities. I wouldn’t be able to survive the last semester without the support and encouragement rendered by my colleagues. As I continue to bounce ideas off colleagues and explore ways to hone my course delivery, I hope to create more opportunities to humanize virtual interaction in my courses. I look forward to getting new inspirations from my peers as we navigate the uncharted waters together in the days ahead.
Published 12 June 2020