THE FUN THEY HAD.
Nina MK, Ph.D.
A good teacher is a continuous learner. I consider myself blessed and even privileged, because I grew up in a large family with my Grandmother, a teacher since age 14 and a school headmistress since age 24, in its center. Some principles of the profession must have been imbibed even before I could walk so to speak. As a mother of three, I realized quite early that I was doing more or less the same job 24/7/365. Like my Granny, I figured out that if I could teach my own kids anything, I could also teach all the other kids too. And since I learned something new from my own children, I have always been attentive to what I could pick up from my students. Today’s adolescents belong to the dot.com and iPad generation; for them, ICT “always” existed. For them, not being able to instantly connect to their peers all over the planet, or not being able to watch whatever is happening in the world are as unimaginable as the Stone Age. It follows that if we teachers, adults do not manage to keep up, we are regarded as dinosaurs, or not noticed at all.
Blended and online learning are becoming more and more prevalent in the developed countries. There are plenty of places where this kind of teaching and learning are virtually unknown, or even where there is no schooling at all. Otherwise there would not be so many homeless people and unaccompanied minors embarking on perilous journeys. I would say my ROLE has not changed; I am still a teacher, an educator, whether I am conducting a lesson or a workshop in a classroom or via the internet from any convenient venue. My FUNCTIONS, my actions, my methods are changing. Using ICT on a daily basis provides more flexibility; it gives us access to innumerable resources, as well as a previously unheard of opportunity to find answers, illustrations, audio and video aids immediately. “Can you please conduct a workshop for us on Why Children Yawn at Lessons?” This came via email from various teachers in my country. I know some of the reasons, but I checked some useful sites like WHO (World Health Organization) and made a presentation which proved to be quite a revelation for many of my colleagues. No, children do not always yawn because they are bored or sleepy. One of the main reasons is lack of oxygen and motion, physical activity.
“Could you tell us about “balling?” threw me for a moment until I deduced it was a mispronunciation of “bullying”. Though the phenomenon exists, there is no exact term for that in Russian. I had to use some obsolete words to explain what it is. Then I turned to the sources in English, and showed my colleagues lots of web pages, discussion forums and news items devoted to this modern issue. Sadly, bullies use ICT, the social media, texting et cetera too, often with disastrous results.
No matter which topic we have in our lesson plan, we can make it more attractive and considerably easier thanks to the many resources that are easy to find on the web. We can put together a wonderful absorbing lesson for any age and level by surfing, choosing the materials, and clicking around. We adults are in the sphere of continuous self-education. Being good teachers, we can share our findings with the pupils, and encourage them to look for what interests them. Naturally all human beings need contact; we all want to communicate. In this, our role as teachers does not change. As in the oft-quoted short science fiction story by Isaac Asimov, if real live teachers are gone and children are taught by robots, they feel that something is missing. When they learn that in times past there used to be live adults teaching kids, they sigh, “Imagine the fun they had!” It is intended as a humorous remark, considering that most people would probably say they disliked school; maybe a hundred per cent would be able to name at least one hated teacher who used to poison their days. And yet, the fun they had when there were real lessons in real classrooms!
Online learning and teaching provide us with very good opportunities which solve many problems. Some of them are simply distance, harsh winters, bad weather, and impassable roads. “Nobody can get to our village from October through May, yet we have the internet, so we feel connected to the world”, my friend, a remote village school headmaster, writes to me in his emails. “May we have a skype session?” asks a student. “I can’t get out of home due to this snowfall!” ICT is a huge help for those who are sick or disabled. I would not say that a skype session can always substitute a real classroom lesson, but it is definitely a great option to be used on many occasions.