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The New Normal

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It's spring! Though there is a snow blizzard outside and the temperature is -10C, spring brings in new hope!

As a teacher trainer and author, I have been teaching and writing about ICT in Education since the mid-1990’s. In recent years, I have mostly dealt with adults, plus numerous official and unofficial consultations, seminars, demonstrations, projects for students of all ages and levels. In a way the sudden switch to online existence a year ago was not a shock. I spent more time and effort on helping those colleagues who did not use ICT in their classrooms much, or maybe even at all, previously. All the numerous lesson plans, methodological articles, conference reports I made through the years came in useful again. Parents ask me for help too. I would say that children accepted the new way of schooling faster than adults. What they miss most is communication, not only with their peers but (big surprise) with their teachers too!

I admire all my colleagues who managed to learn how to conduct their virtual lessons via various platforms practically overnight. It is amazing that we all cope with this abnormal situation, this process of not knowing what to expect tomorrow. Will teachers be told to work from home suddenly or will they be told to come to school and face their classes? Will the authorities again float the wonderful idea of “blended” process, spending half a day at school, face-to-face, then half a day at home, giving online lessons, thus doing double the work for the same pay?...

The new way of teaching has a few indisputable benefits for all concerned. One, most teachers now use ICT confidently. Two, most students understand what they are supposed to do while staying home with their computer instead of a classroom. If we ever return to in-class process, I believe we’ll do many things differently. We learned how to choose what we really need, which exercises and topics are a must and which we can eliminate. Thus our time may be used more productively.

There are also a number of drawbacks. A year is a very long time for any child. The youngest ones either may not remember any different or may not even know what is meant by “normal”. From what I observed when a school which is right below my own window opened after a long break was children rushing at each other, shouting joyfully, hugging, running around paying no attention to adults. In other words, it was a normal back-to-school scene; it simply occurred, not in September but in January. Anybody can see that children are hungry for communication, companionship; studying comes a definite second or maybe does not even figure in their minds.

Parents are certainly glad that they can go back to their work, if their jobs still survive. One of the effects of the pandemic restrictions is of course the resulting bankruptcies, the closures of many places like restaurants, cafes and shops, amusement parks et cetera.

Teachers will feel that they are back to the familiar position of people who can control the class, who can see the whole mixed group at a glance, who can decide what and how to do a lesson. But teachers are also going to be faced with students who hve become unused to that same control. Discipline and motivation are probably gone; it is immensely hard to capture and bring them back to class.

For my own webinars and consultations, I began to make lists. Remember those “Pros & Cons” exercises we used to have routinely? “Let’s Abolish Breakfast: Pros & Cons”. Any topic can evoke interest if presented in such an unusual way. Rather than drone on about the healthy way of life, we can stimulate our students’ thought processes and activate their vocabulary by giving them some time to think, to express their thoughts. It pays to make your own lists for every lesson plan and any large topic. We can use the computer and the internet in moderation, activate our own accumulated skills. If we allow the time for free discussion, we can not only help our students (or our adult audience). We’ll be able to see at once which of them are “in” and who forgot everything they had learned last year.

Many adults and children cannot visit their nearest and dearest this whole year; many families had no summer leave – no sports camps, no family trips to the sea, no grandparents’ visits. It is a weight on our minds, be we teachers, instructors, parents or children. I am often asked the same questions by adults and children alike. Do you miss your children? How do you cope? By nature of my profession, I am acquainted with thousands of people. Imagine being asked the same tough questions daily about a zillion times. Yet my professionalism helps me weather those too. I sort of carry around the same answer which I produce each time: “Of course I do, but ICT helps”. We can use this simple fact in our lessons. Computers and the internet help us not only as a tool for getting all the necessary information, but also as a means of communication, both professionally and in our private life.  

Nina Koptyug, Ph.D.