Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Kristen Gyles | Virtually revolutionised classroom priorities

Published:Wednesday | October 21, 2020 | 12:07 AM
Kristen Gyles
Kristen Gyles
I’m sure it is more than a few teachers who are starting to discover that classes are more productive. No noise. No begging of pens. And no interrupting the teacher to ask permission to drink water.
I’m sure it is more than a few teachers who are starting to discover that classes are more productive. No noise. No begging of pens. And no interrupting the teacher to ask permission to drink water.
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We like to say “Things and times have changed.” In the case of virtual schooling, it’s the times that have changed things, and drastically, too. One of the biggest changes I’ve picked up is the shift in priorities, now that schools have essentially transitioned online from the familiar brick-and-mortar establishments.

For some teachers and students who continue to face the struggle of poor Internet connectivity, online teaching and learning is simply the makeshift best of a bad situation. However, with the entire term last school year having been spent online, many students and teachers have got ample exposure to the ‘new norm’.

Now, new struggles are emerging.

It is now becoming a little funny watching the wild goose chase of some teachers and school administrators coercing their students to turn their cameras on or to unmute their mics to answer questions. It seems, for some persons, life is not worth living without stress.

This must be why, before most schools had even resumed classes for the year, there were concerns about whether or not students would be expected to wear uniforms to ‘school’. Would they be allowed to keep in their ‘hot girl’ summer braids, or no? What about earrings and all the other ‘bling bling’ many schools typically don’t allow? Of course, none of these rules can really be enforced unless the students dutifully turn on their cameras for the spot checks to be done. This, we know, in many cases, just doesn’t happen.

I think I actually like what is happening. Schools are being forced to shift their priorities, such that the focus is no longer on the colour of the sweater the student is wearing or on the colour of the pen ink they are using to write notes. Persons are now starting to get a clear picture of the things that impact the learning environment and the things that never did.

Students are now being forced to take greater responsibility for their academic progress, and schools are being forced to put their focus where it really matters and forget all the noise over hairdos and all that other nonsense.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS

As a graduate student myself, I can testify boldly to the fact that neither myself nor my classmates opt to turn our cameras on during classes. Graduate studies are simply too expensive to become distracted by concerns about whether the background in view is tidy enough or whether the ‘matta’ falling out of the eye is being picked up by the camera.

Some things just don’t matter at the end of the day, and if we are preparing students for survival in a world of changing priorities, they must be taught the nuances of how social and professional expectations change, and they must be taught how to critically examine these expectations.

Furthermore, I’m sure it is more than a few teachers who are starting to discover that classes are more productive. No noise. No begging of pens. And no interrupting the teacher to ask permission to drink water (I mean, seriously?). I am heartened by how quickly the micromanagement culture in schools has disappeared.

Thankfully, what seems to have also disappeared is bad behaviour. Gone are the days of teachers having to spend five minutes scolding one student about excessive chatting or other disruptive behaviours. The muted mic has taken care of that.

Not only are the behavioural disruptions significantly reduced, but unnecessary activities are being cut out as well. The signing of the register (which easily takes up five minutes, on a good day) is now done electronically, and teachers no longer need to delay the starting of their classes by waiting on students to settle down as they move from classroom to classroom.

For many, productivity has improved.

STUDENTS FORCED TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

I know that for some, the perspective is more or less that because of all these changes, teachers can no longer ensure that students are attentive during classes, assuming they are actually present. Yes, excellent observation. Which is why students are now being forced to learn that they will have to take responsibility for their own learning. We have long passed the point in time when it was reasonable for either parents or teachers to think they could actually force students to learn.

If the young man or woman wants to log in to class and leave the laptop to go and watch the Generations marathon on TV, who am I to dim their shine? Have fun. Some students will only learn certain lessons when CSEC and CAPE grades are administered.

Anyway, it is hard to exult over the advantageous paradigm shifts that are taking place when the majority of students and teachers are still unable to reap the benefits. I hope we can get the ‘no signal’ conundrum sorted quickly. But, if not, perhaps we might want to revert to a less sweeping approach that sees all students, of differing circumstances, engaging in learning in the same ways.

It certainly isn’t an easy undertaking, but maybe we can have some of our more rural schools revert back to the old ways that have been tried and proven.

Kristen Gyles is a mathematics educator. Email feedback to kristengyles@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com.