The challenges of e-learning
One of the first contingency measures brought by the pandemic we are experiencing was to close schools. This led to the search for alternative teaching models - different from the traditional classroom-based ones. Thus, there was a migration to distance learning, with all the challenges inherent to such a quick change and adaptation. To better understand what this means, what solutions are available, and what is the best way to enhance this new teaching model, we spoke with João Borges, CEO of DreamShaper.
This post is part of a collaborative effort between Startup Portugal, The Next Big Idea, and Sapo24, meant to create relevant content to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Content available in Portuguese.
One of the first contingency measures brought by the pandemic we are experiencing was to close schools. This led to the search for alternative teaching models – different from the traditional classroom-based ones. Thus, there was a migration to distance learning, with all the challenges inherent to such a quick change and adaptation. To better understand what this means, what solutions are available, and what is the best way to enhance this new teaching model, we spoke with João Borges, CEO of DreamShaper.
DreamShaper is a startup founded by three Portuguese. They developed an online tool that helps students of various levels of education to develop practical projects related to their classes, ensuring better learning and the development of socio-emotional and work-related skills.
1 – E-learning: Where to begin with? At this point, both teachers and students seem to have this problem. How can teaching professionals be prepared for this situation?
There is no doubt that both students and teachers have this problem. On the one hand, teachers need to adapt to new teaching methods and tools, but on the other hand, students also need to get used to new learning tools and formats. I believe that with so many sudden changes, there is no time to ‘prepare’ teaching professionals. Instead, we should support them as much as possible in this transition and help mitigate the difficulties that everyone is experiencing. There is a set of clear recommendations that shape the models of teaching via internet. However, it isn’t possible to implement most of these recommendations in a situation like this – unplanned and sudden.
I think that the best way to help teaching professionals at this stage is to give them methodological references that help them to adapt their teaching methods. This will guarantee the motivation, autonomy, and involvement of their students, regardless of the technology or tool used. That is the biggest challenge.
2 – Are there enough free tools to address this problem immediately? Which ones are available?
There are several tools that, at this stage, were made available free of charge and that can help teachers move their classroom activities from on-site to remote. Among them, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams and Virtual School (Escola Virtual). Other tools were already free and can be used creatively for this purpose, such as Facebook, Whatsapp and others. However, I don’t think they solve the most important part of the problem quickly enough. In other words, these tools are the technological support for the teacher to continue teaching his students. Yet, they don’t bring the methodological/pedagogical support that the teacher needs at this moment to be able to innovate and adapt his teaching method.
3 – Dealing with students can be difficult, but these new solutions allow closer monitoring of the progress of each one while still empowering them. How can a teaching professional enhance the use of these (still alternative) forms of teaching?
I would put it differently: Dealing with students can be easy! It doesn’t have to be difficult. I don’t think it is more difficult to deal with the student at this stage than it was already in the classroom.
Nowadays, there is a big gap between the traditional teaching formats and the motivations and needs of the young student of the 21st century. The young man of the 21st century is a young man who likes to be autonomous, likes to produce content, likes to lead his discoveries. Only then is he motivated to learn. At the same time, he is a young man who needs to develop transversal (social and emotional) skills to be successful in his personal, academic, and professional life. Today, more than ever, teachers are asked to put into practice in their classes the so-called active teaching methodologies. Teaching methods in which the student is an active agent in his learning process, such as problem-based and project-based learning, the inverted classroom, or others.
At this moment, when students are far away from their teachers and are learning ‘alone’ at home, it is even more important to put into practice this type of methodology based on the student’s sense of responsibility and autonomy. Today, more autonomous students equal more motivated students. All crises bring great opportunities. For teachers, this is an excellent opportunity to test new methods and draw from this experience good practices that they can apply in the future as soon as everything returns to normal.
4 – Identifying where the problem begins can be the first setback in this situation. Since teachers are experiencing a virtual learning situation, could this be a way of minimizing the obstacles that teachers pose to these methods?
Undoubtedly, understanding the problem can be one of the main difficulties right now. That is why we have argued that, at this stage, we should encourage teaching professionals to step back and evaluate themselves. They should “afford” to spend some time observing their work and self-assess. The vast majority of teachers already mastered and were comfortable with their day-to-day pedagogical practice. But right now, they are totally out of their comfort zone and overwhelmed with information and demands, which leaves them very little free time. It is essential that, despite everything, teachers find space (and they are given that space) to learn. It is essential to take risks, make mistakes, learn.
Other actions can make all the difference in this period such as bringing together small communities of teachers, almost like social gatherings specifically designed for them. This will allow them to learn from their peers. The mistakes of some will bring the successes of others. At this moment, sharing is essential for a quick adaptation to new circumstances.
5 – In the article published on Linkedin, you mention the need to keep parents involved in this process. Do you feel that introducing a third axis in this process can be a factor of exclusivity, and not of inclusiveness, for students? How can you ensure that everyone recognizes the need for this effort?
Parental involvement in the education of their children has always been fundamental. Usually, the more attentive and involved the parents are, the smoother and more effective the students’ learning process is. At this particular moment, we noticed that the whole community (school, teachers, parents, students) is concerned about how to maintain the quality of education, the continuity of learning, and the development of students’ skills. This is why we consider it necessary for parents to be involved. On the one hand, they can be a differentiating factor, like an enzyme, in the teaching-learning process, and the relationship between student and teacher. On the other hand, because parents can guarantee the student’s responsibility and autonomy, stimulating and monitoring this process. Finally, we believe that, in a certain way, the educational institutions are accountable to the parents of the students, among others. Thereby, it is important to give them visibility and some ownership in these challenging times for everyone. I don’t think it’s a matter of exclusivity nor inclusiveness. It is rather a factor with a differentiating potential in the success of the school, the teacher, and the student during these complex times that they are living together.
6 – Are there any specific steps being taken in Portugal to achieve this transition?
This “crisis” will bring an opportunity for teachers to test new methods, make mistakes, and learn and conquer new tools that they can use in the future. But there is also an opportunity for parents to become more involved in the learning process of their children and maintain some of that involvement in the future.
7 – I find it difficult to think about such issues without addressing an infrastructure problem – encouraging the shift from classroom teaching to online formats is urgent, but it is a logistical challenge. Although we have great internet connections across the country, we can’t assume that all students have the necessary tools to access it. What steps can be taken to ensure the democratization of education in these conditions?
I don’t believe that, at this moment, there is necessarily an incentive to switch education to online formats. There is, however, a need for it. In the future, when things go back to normal, there will be, perhaps, an incentive for hybrid teaching, which combines harmoniously traditional classroom activities with online experiences – creating a richer, more complete and engaging learning experience.
Given that today there is a need to shift all education to remote format, there is a movement that wants this to happen mainly through online formats. I agree that this poses a challenge. Not all students have internet and devices to access it at home, and this presents a challenge. Still, I think access to the internet is more problematic than the availability of devices. With this in mind, I think the formation of partnerships between educational platforms and telephone/internet operators will be a valid path. This way everyone can have free access to these tools.
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