Winter is round the corner and predictions say we are not going back to our regular life just as yet. While online education proved itself as a plausible prototype of face-to-face classes, education quality remains the prime concern of many educational institutions.
Thousands of studies, observations and research have reported on the advantages and disadvantages of online education addressing the appropriateness of the platforms (e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard Collaborate, TrueConf, etc.), the availability of internet connection (Wi-Fi) and provision of the necessary electronic devices (laptops, computers) to students and staff. This all is, definitely, the bedrock for online education. School and university stakeholders have to take measures on assuring technical ease to teachers and students as the main actors of the educational process. Providing that not every student is in possession of a personal laptop or computer, platform designers should probably concentrate on the development of smartphone apps to be used as a means of synchronous and asynchronous classes. And of course, it won’t be a surprise, if I say that most teachers are in need of short but useful instructions on how to operate these “magic” platforms. Well, let’s assume this part is done. Now how about the quality of education?
Practice shows that despite the technical side of the issue and participants’ (teachers and students) psychological preparedness to the process, a carefully designed syllabus is the heart of online education. I am sure you all have noticed that a syllabus designed for a face-to-face class hardly meets our online teaching requirements. And, very often, our major fault is to transfer the first into the mode of another. Well, why doesn’t it work like this? Of course, several factors matter: social isolation, lack of motivation and as a result mal-attitude to academic integrity are the major obstacles to overcome during online teaching in particular.
Out-of-class isolation is a number one factor that should be treated in our syllabi. Providing that online classes are much more flexible than a face-to-face class, why is it that most of us still believe physical presence in the classroom is important? Simple! Classroom is not just a place to get knowledge and skills, it is a place where students meet other people, learn to communicate and grow as members of the society. Interaction with others is a crucial component that affects our interests, likes, dislikes and even motivation. Being among others enhances our impulses, positive or negative, both affecting us at a physical and/or emotional levels. Social isolation, being a primary drawback of remote/online education, should be considered as a beacon of any course syllabus. Today, posting a photo, using discussion boards or posting weekly announcements are seen as major elements to provide engagement opportunities among students and teacher. However, practice shows that these simple pedagogical tricks remain efficient just for a short period of time. So, how about real actions capable of having students involved within the whole course?
Showing particular care to each student will probably be one of the most efficient techniques to use. Individual approach to each student may not only engage a student but increase his/her level of motivation. In classes where there is a high number of students, small group classes, i.e., a class of 3-4 students, as well as group activities will be quite appropriate. Some 15-20 minutes attended to a student or a group of students will give them a feeling of total involvement into the education process, creating the atmosphere of reality, not virtuality.
- Individual classes
- Small group classes
- Group activities
- Out-of-class online meetings
Teachers may also want to give extra tasks to students that might be useful within the course flow and then discuss these tasks using an out-of-class individual meeting(s). Yes, it is a time-consuming activity, but very productive! In other words, instead of building your online course on regular lectures and seminars, these additional opportunities may have a better impact on your students and bring fruitful results.
Resist lack of motivation
Lack of students’ motivation is another problem we face both in regular and online classes. Studies show that the major incentive students learn for are grades. Not good at all! Providing that there are thousands of purposes to study, grade should not be the only objective. Students should feel that whatever they do is done for a purpose. Writing an essay should be for a purpose, preparing an oral speech should be for a purpose. Finally, the assignment done for the calculus class should have its particular purpose. The purpose will mostly depend on the nature of the course and learners’ needs, yet every assignment should serve some particular function.
- Set a target
- Introduce a specific assignment
- Use a task-based approach
Just imagine that you are a Public Speaking instructor asking your students to video-record a one-minute speech discussing the advantages and disadvantages of online education. Don’t focus on grade! Ask them to upload their videos on YouTube and promote it among their peers. See the result!
Provide academic integrity
Academic integrity has always been a matter of consideration, yet with online teaching the question has become more serious. Despite a crazy number of online plagiarism detection and prevention programs, we fail to achieve real academic transparency. While many educational institutions are in a chase on the most sophisticated browsers, we completely ignore our own capacity to provide integrity in our classes. To be more clear, let’s try to summarize what the major reasons for plagiarism are. A number of surveys (Mammadova, 2020) conducted among university students show that the main reasons to cheat or plagiarize are:
- students are lazy
- students lack moral responsibility
- students see plagiarism as an easy way to get grades
- students are not motivated
- students lack time to prepare
- course demands are too high
- students cannot express themselves
Involvement of a student into the education process when students no longer feel lonely and demotivated may become a remedy for the first three reasons above. Despite this, teachers should consider the following:
- communicate clear assessment guidelines
- set limits
- control attendance (use in-class roll-call)
- provide extra assignments for a bonus grade
The most effective way to reduce cheating should be the involvement of students in an interesting assignment (Renard, 2000). Moreover, graded tasks should be creative and built on such pedagogical techniques as case studies, reflections, reviews that cannot be found elsewhere but produced as a result of the input got from your class. And do not forget to set your particular requirements. Be unique! Ask students to do something which will be unique for your class, but still reasonable. This may be a particular time limit or something that you once explained in your class, followed by strict guidelines and requirements.
These and many other techniques, different from our regular teaching, may turn online classes into the most demanded ones. Just be creative!
Renard, L. (2000). “Cut and paste 101: plagiarism and the net.” Educational Leadership, 57(4), 38-42.
The author is Assistant Professor at ADA University, Azerbaijan. She holds a PhD from the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where she is a member of SPERTUS research group. She has also completed her post-doctoral research at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org