Teaching from the Cloud: A Reflection on the Online Learning Process in the Midst of Pandemic
The Year 2020 is a unique moment in my life as a human rights practitioner and educator. During the last 6 months from April to September, almost everyone in the world has struggled with the pandemic crisis that forces us to follow home quarantine policies in our own countries. So, there is nothing that can be done except to stay at home, work from home, and worship from home, as ordered by the Government. All tasks, assignments, activities and office meetings must be conducted via remote communication and teleconferencing platforms. As a human rights educator who typically conducts training sessions in the classroom environment, I too have been affected. However, to do my job I have benefited from the rapid and massive development of educational technology and distance learning methodology. Various devices and platforms for teleconferencing are available. There are many options available online for remote facilitation and building Learning Management Systems (LMS).
Data from the World Bank shows that even before the pandemic happened, there were actually significant growth and high adoption of educational technology in the world. For example, overall global education technology investment has reached nearly US$ 19 billion in 2019. In fact, the overall market for online education is predicted to reach US$ 350 billion by 2025. This applies not only to language applications, virtual tutoring, or video conferencing tools, but also software for various online learning. Given this pandemic and work or study from home policies, it is clear this trend will increase. For the last 6 months, Google Trends shows us that web searches for words such as “learn from home”, “e-learning”, “online training”, “distance learning”, “massive and open online course (MOOC)”, and other similar terms have increased significantly. This indicates an increasing demand for information, knowledge, and skills for online and distance education. Also, since February 2020 traffic on the websites and application downloads for educational technology platforms or software has increased. Indonesia has a great opportunity to take advantage of the development of online learning, considering that more than 171 million Indonesians are currently connected to the Internet. According to a survey by the Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association (APJII), fully 63,5 percents of the population has access to the internet. This number is higher than many other Asian countries. Also, more than 530,000 schools have closed during the outbreak making the need of effective online education vital.
However, aside from the growing educational technology, it is important to look at how these changes also affect the actors involved in the learning process. There were quite a lot of discussions in the media regarding how distance learning affects students. Yet, this work and learning from home policy also affects millions of teachers, educators, lecturers, as well as training instructors and facilitators. Educators are now forced to rethink their basic competencies and skills in teaching “from the cloud” through distance learning methods.
In the context of corporate training and capacity building programs with Government or CSOs, trainers or facilitators are challenged to carry out training series that were designed through conventional face-to-face methods to become an effective online training model with participatory approach. Initially, I had serious doubts regarding how change my approach and ways of training facilitation. Could adult learning be applied to online training? How could participants be fully engaged in sessions? What if the signal is not good, delayed, or even interrupted? Wouldn’t these technical constraints create frustration for both trainers and participants?
In my experience, the previous reluctance and hesitation to adopt technology has turned 180 degrees because of the necessity for surviving and performing well in times of crisis. Today, I rely heavily on online and distance education to do my job. It is not only encouraging me to have more digital literacy, but also mastering online facilitation techniques. At the beginning, the biggest challenge for me as a trainer was to improve my proficiency in mastering educational tools and technology during the remote teaching sessions and at the same time ensuring the principles and spirit of adult learning and participatory approach are not eroded by technological constraints. This pandemic period is a testing room for me to become a good trainer in times of crisis but also a better trainer when this crisis is over.
Some practical examples I can share are as follows: First, as happened in the face-to-face offline class, the online course should be designed to reflect problem-centred adult learning rather than content-oriented and we have to treat the participants both as students and also as resource-persons that know better their own contexts/situations. I believe that in adult learning, participants are most interested in learning subject matter that having immediate relevance and impact to their context or personal life. That is the reason why we need to balance between webinar, online lecture with experts from different background with interactive discussions, reflections and sharing experiences among participants.
Second, choosing a good and stable teleconferencing application is very essential. Currently, Zoom and Google Meet are the applications that I use the most. These platforms provide opportunities for trainers and participants to apply various learning methods that are able to encourage the participation and engagement of participants, from giving opinions, questions, comments, polls, or even group discussions in separate/break-out rooms. The devices also allow us to combine and display the participatory brainstorming with online metacards using jamboard or mentimeter. By mastering this technology, I can easily transfer the experience of building collective engagement and group dynamics from face-to-face offline classes into online classes.
Third, there is always a doubt whether online training can be expected to provide emotional ambience for participants. Is it possible to relay the hands-on inter-personal experience through distance learning? While in human rights training programs, it is important that the inter-personal aspects — affection, compassion, and emotion — are not lost in online classes. Human rights is not just about the law and mechanisms, it mostly about values. So, despite the screen boundaries, the facilitator has to be creative to add stories, documentary movies, and testimonials to enrich the experience. The presence of these stories can build individual empathy which later can be discussed/analysed in the larger group. As part of the learning process, those materials are not displayed as exhibits only but also part of critical analysis to understand the issues more deeply, for example the culture of oppression.
Forth, creating an online syllabus and learning management system. Apart from participation and building empathy, it is important to see how well the online training content and syllabus are structured. How is the syllabus designed and managed? Are the contents and process clear and adequate? How are the materials and handouts are prepared and compiled? What platforms are used to organize the syllabus and materials so that fellow trainers and participants can access it effectively? During the training, I use the syllabus as to guide to deliver the content and process of learning. The syllabus is distributed to participants through the Learning Management System (LMS) that can be accessed and relatively easy to be used by the participants. They can also give ratings or feedback related to the quality of the learning they receive. Fifth, feedback and quality evaluation of the training is an important part of for continuous improvement of the program. This is the process of identifying how the training achieves its learning objectives. A good teacher/ facilitator will tirelessly work to fill the gaps between aspirational expectations of the participants and the actual limitations. A lot of tools for remote evaluation is available online.
It is during this pandemic that the quality of a trainer is tested through distance education. Becoming a teacher or trainer means doing everything that required in all aspects of learning. You must exert every effort you can to manage the class, deliver content adequately, carry and bring positive energy, encourage participation and engagement, check participants’ performance, and give and receive feedback. At the same time you must also continue to study and read all references on the principles of pedagogy and andragogy and master the most update technologies, because sometimes you have to be able to become a trouble-shooter, provide technical assistance and open the door to discuss problem. In this context, mentorship and effective support systems building are essential for online training.
The year 2020 is a new era which all-conventional educational practices and competencies are challenged. That is the reason why continuously discussing and reflecting on this issue will broaden learning opportunities and uncover the problems that need to be fixed and improved. One of priorities now is TOT and capacity building for teachers/trainers regarding online learning, including education technology, digital literacy and enrichment of online teaching methods. As such, it can contribute to the expansion of online learning during and after the crisis and make online learning more effective and inclusive.