DISTANCE LEARNING/The first anniversary of the pandemic spreading

The current state of affairs, marked by COVID, has deeply affected our lives and brought about changes overnight that we would not think of not so long ago. On the first anniversary of the pandemic spreading all over Europe we decided to check how it had affected education, with distance learning being a sudden reality even for months.

Our partners in Greece made survey (online) which was answered by 14 students and two teachers. We attach it at the end of this interview for its interest. At the same time, a whole class of 16-year-old students in Spain also talked about the same issue.

The Greek survey started asking if distance learning is effective, and what its effects might be. Most people there answered it is not efffective, but some remarked it could be useful as a complement. We asked people in other countries.

Mr Hartman, English teacher in Poland considers « there are not many positive aspects of online learning » , an opinion shared by colleagues in Spain. « I could see from the very beginning that certain contents would not get to the students effectively, so I turned to face-to-face videoconferences almost every day, as there was some interaction and feedback from the students « , says Enrique Caballero, English teacher in Spain. His students agreed that distance learning is not effective. Adrian (16) remarked that « it’s only effective in the most practical aspects ».

One participant in the Greek survey summarises the point  « No, it isn’t affective on it’s own virtue. Combined with physical learning can help especially during difficult times like this one. It is just a means of keeping in touch with education and supports is psychologically ». The little interaction is felt as a big problem.

The second and third aspects in the survey were the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning. Participants in the Greek survey highlight the already mentioned lack of interaction or communication, and other difficulties and consequences broought about by technical issues.

Anthony (15) from Romania starts: « I don’t like to study online because it’s harder to understand » and continues « sometimes teachers can’t be heard or the quality of the video camera is unclear, other times my internet doesn’t work anymore ».        David (16), also from Romania adds: « PersonalLy,  I don’t like “studying” online because it’s harder to have a student-teacher communication than going to school in person. One difficulty that I have is lag or hearing problems. Technical difficulties are hard to deal with and the requirements are expensive(…) ». Their colleague Daniel ( 17) saw both sides : « Yes and no. I like to study online just because I’m at home and I have the chance to sleep more (I’m in campus at school) ». Though he concludes :  « Otherwise, compared to the physical classes at school, I don’t learn too much ».

Since participants were asked to reflect on positive aspects, most focus on the convenient side : being at home, waking up later, not walking to school. Mario (16) from Spain adds « there is not so much pressure with exams ». However, he also concludes « there are fewer parctical lessons and you don’t have contact with your friends ». His classmate Alberto (16) concludes « you learn very little ». So again, lack of effectiveness and interaction are major drawbacks. One participant in the Greek survey even mentions « loneliness ».

It comes as a result that the question is if distance learning is better. Elena (teacher in Italy) states « I prefer teaching at school because students tend to interact more. They also have no distractions thus they can learn more easily », and her student Aurora says « I prefer going to school because I can concentrate more than when I’m learning online ».

Their opinions are widely shared by students and teachers in the rest of the countries. Mario (16, Spain) says « on average it is not better, and being together is more motivating », a fact that was shared by all Spanish students. Jorge (16) concludes : « we need to socialise ».

Mr Hartman (Poland) adds : « it seems to me that our students don’t want to  study this way » and refers to an aspect to bear in mind : « Many students abuse it (technical issues) and they cheat while writing a test ». He draws a good conclusion : « nothing can replace a teacher at school » (…) « we may draw a conclusion that  working at school with students with the use of a computer and an interactive whiteboard is a crucial element in achieving a success ».

The Geek survey added yet another question: Which suggestions would you make in order to improve distance learning? And that seems a difficult one. Most participants refferred to technical issues or said nothing. « In general » reflects Mr Caballero from Spain « I think it worked pretty well. We had to adapt overnight, we could only organise ourselves already from our homes. In my case contact with my students worked and the videoconferences worked as good as they could » though he agrees with Mr Hartman from Poland : « I really miss my students in my classroom because I need their interaction, the expression of their faces, which helps me to evaluate the progress they make with the new material and the pace of the lesson I run. All of us are social beings and we need a real contact in a real world with the second person. So far such a contact is the best method to educate, and bring up our students and nothing will ever replace it. »

DISTANCE LEARNING/The first anniversary of the pandemic spreading

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