What have we learned from Emergency Remote Teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic?

 In March 2020 students all over the world, including in the UAE, found themselves at home, in lockdown and thrown into online video classes.  Stephen Gange of Johns Hopkins University reflects the feelings of many teachers and students about this sudden shift to on-line video lecturing, "we know it's of a different nature from teaching in the classroom” (Murphy, 2019). Gange’s “different nature” clearly reflects the unplanned-for video delivery mode in this new teaching and learning environment.  Untrained in video teaching and unfamiliar with online conferencing software, many educators and students found themselves struggling at first in classes taught via on-line conferencing platforms such as Microsoft TEAM, Zoom, Wiz IQ, Blackboard and others; software not specifically designed for online study. 

Under such circumstances another quotation, this time from Feilim MacGabhann also of John Hopkins, is perhaps even more appropriate:  "Perfection is impossible, so don't strive for that - we're not professional video editors or animators, so if your hand-drawn, squiggly diagrams are OK for the whiteboard, they're OK for an online lecture or discussion" (Murphy, 2019).  To date little research had been done on such Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT).  However, learning by video has been around long before live video broadcast was considered. It started in the 1940’s in military applications where movie footage was used as a teaching tool.   Later, in the 1990’s, the importance and prevalence of video in education changed dramatically once video could be embedded in webpages.  Following this, learning management systems (LMS), developed and became distribution platforms facilitating the use of video as a wide-spread educational medium.

These developments mean today’s students have been watching video lectures for years on a wide range of devices including: laptops, tablets, desktops and increasingly smartphones (Villano, 2016); they are the YouTube generation.  The advancements in video-conferencing technology along with student experience and familiarity with social media had unintentionally prepared them for the sudden switch to ERT.  Such a dramatic change would not have been possible with previous generations or with earlier virtual meeting software.  However, further study is needed in a number of areas including: the impact of isolation on students, the effect of the viewing device on student satisfaction with classes, and, in particular, what features a video-lecturing platform should have as opposed to a video-conferencing software. 

Hopefully the COVID-19 crisis will be behind us soon. When it is, we should not just return to our old familiar campus ways and forget about what we learned from our (ERT) experience.  Instead, we should incorporate this upgraded technology and software experience into our teaching and learning practices. Two key areas we can start with are; first, that video lecturing must become part of educators’ professional development and second, that the education sector needs to define criteria for a dedicated on-line video- teaching platform that is purpose-built with the lessons learned from the COVID-19 experience.

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