This guest article was written by 3DS Facilitator and Amolingua CEO, Ekaterina Matveeva

The pandemic has altered the way how students interact with institutions and take up studies. In the past months, I have been teaching students of various levels and hosted a number of round tables with teachers and entrepreneurs to find out the student’s point of view. Also, being an active online learner, I discovered new ways of engaging in my studies.

Apart from obvious hindrances such as the speed of the internet, unequal access to the internet, and privacy issues, there are more serious, to my mind, obstacles that prevent a modern student from enjoying and fully involving in the study process. One of them is the lack of engaging educational content, accompanied by a myriad of
distractions starting from social media and finishing up with online games. This brings a lot of children to “zoom fatigue” – an emotional state when they are required to keep their cameras on during the whole study day, feeling constantly under the pressure of being observed, in the spotlight, without being able to relax between periods of high concentration, or play and stretch their bodies every now and then. Consequently, a lot of students of different age groups started falling behind their studies, experiencing negative emotions towards particular subjects, and ignoring
their lessons by getting carried away by online distractions.

This is not an easy challenge to tackle. However, there are a few worthy of mentioning examples that can serve as a beacon in this transitional period. As an online student I had a chance to take up the online course “Introduction in
Computer Science” or also called “CS50” at Harvard University. This course is led by Dr. David J. Malan.

Dr Malan started teaching CS50 considerably before the pandemic, however, he already had in mind an idea of online education and requested the university administration to help him film the course so that students who would be able to watch his course via MOOC platforms could feel as if they were present at his course. Eventually, this turned CS50 in one of the most engaging courses with dynamic explanations, theatrical performances, amusing examples, intriguing tasks, and over 2 million registrants. Students enjoy immensely the course. Does it mean that all the courses must be like this? There is no correct answer to this question. However, if students have no opportunity to attend engaging classes, how could they learn more effectively?

First of all, a student needs to find a healthy balance between on-screen and off- screen time in order to avoid the “zoom fatigue”. It can involve physical exercises, getting a healthy snack, playing a game, talking to a friend, or doing anything
offscreen. It is also important to admit, that the eyesight might get affected by long hours in front of the screen, therefore, a break is recommended every 2 hours, if more frequently is not possible to do. Moreover, a student can try to work in a team with other students to engage in discussions and solve tasks together, this might help to learn faster and find multiple solutions. And finally, a student can use memory techniques and storytelling to memorise information. As a memory athlete, I must admit, that these techniques can help create associations that can turn boring
information in adventurous stories.

Overall, there are various methods that can help students take up responsibility for their studies. Yet, a lot still depends on an educator. What are the main obstacles in online teaching?

 

As an educator with over ten years of online teaching experience, as a language teacher, public speaking coach, and university professor, I must admit that one of the biggest challenges at group sessions is not to burnout while trying to keep students engaged. Especially, when privacy issues or connection don’t allow keeping their cameras on during discussion sessions. This turns a teaching experience into a live session with no immediate response, feedback that could stir the course of the session. Personally, as an educator constantly interacting with students, I found it extremely stressful at some programmes that I was leading, and I discovered my own ways of how to measure the temperature of the room with no cameras by either having a few selected students engaged in our public discussion or a colleague being
in an active dialogue with me.

I was not alone in distress when I heard from a number of my colleagues teaching at universities how hard it was running a course online. On top of connection issues and the inability of some teachers to use digital tools, it turned out that there was yet a bigger issue – how to convert offline course content into online course content. As the spring semester demonstrated it was highly impractical to take two-hour lectures and schedule webinars with the same content, expecting students to follow a monotonous teacher and engage in activities. At that moment I was preparing an executive programme on public speaking in English for international speakers at the University of Palermo (UP), Argentina, and we were driven to the same impasse where it was expected to turn an in-person programme into an online programme
without any changes. However, I proposed a different way to approach the situation. As a creator of video courses on soft skills in foreign languages I had to learn the strategy of knowledge bites – short informative videos with engaging storytelling and practical tasks to memorise the provided information afterward.

It took me some time to explain my approach, as this was novel to the university administration typically measuring the efficiency of programmes and financial rewards of professors in conducted hours. Nevertheless, soon a new format was born of blended learning with a mixture of pre-recorded short videos on theory, engaging tasks and practical dynamic webinars. The feedback on the programme has proven this approach to be the most efficient at the current stage. And more cooperating with Amolingua institutions adopt this approach.

But does it mean that all the lectures must be either recorded in the style of Dr. Malan or new blended learning?

As the founder of Amolingua where we have been training languages, cultures, and soft skills for over four years, I went through a round of attempts to build our apps, platforms, and other tech solutions to provide impeccable learning/teaching experience. However, still, we are in search.

In the past years, I realised that one should not focus on tech as the core of their value proposition, as tech solutions change so fast that it is really easy to be left behind in the tech race. And even though virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are more frequently mentioned in the space of learning, this cutting-edge technology
requires not only time but the adaptation of educators. And one of the opportunities for ed:tech companies is to focus on learning design. As Bob Cooney – the world’s expert on virtual experiences says: “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the Experience”.

While I had to work with a number of educators and university administrators on how to turn offline content to online content, I discovered that it is not simply re-writing the script of re-organising sessions. This transfer involves much more, especially concerning human behaviour online, a learner’s trajectory, personalisation of learning, brain function, and user experience design. A learning designer is a person who adapts an offline course to an online course, finds new ways to engage students and provide interactive sessions for educators.

Being a starting learning designer, I can say that it is a creative and yet technological job. And this might be your opportunity if you are in the sphere of technology and Education.

But this not the most lucrative opportunity in this field. Besides a highly required training on digital tools for educators, there is another need that must be addressed. It is concerning community or ecosystem building.

An offline institution easily builds a community of students attending the same premises, bonding over similar sport or art interests, spending time in nearby entertainment facilities. And the future is in ecosystems. And creating ecosystems
online still proves to be challenging.

As a few years ago the Singularity University leaders were pointing out that there are four stages in development: a product – a service – a platform – an ecosystem (a community); it seems that we are currently at the stage of platforms. Educational institutions are looking for tech solutions without addressing a bigger issue – the creation of an online ecosystem. And there is an opportunity for startup founders to find new ways of creating communities or helping institutions create communities by connecting their students to their “why”, common values, and shared vision.

If the future is in ecosystems, VR, AR, blended learning, and learning design. What kind of jobs might emerge in this sector? How will the field of education evolve in the following years?

This has been already explored by the “Global Education Futures” project (GEF), where I have been contributing since 2015 on the topics of future trends and threats in various educational fields. What is quite peculiar is that educators taking part in this project agree that the figure of a teacher will evolve into more of a mentor or coach who just accompanies a student on the path of learning rather than serving as the source of knowledge.

Apart from a mentoring position, there will be game masters who will work on the gamification of courses with new tech solutions; educational trajectory development specialists helping to personalise courses; project-based learning organisers that will look into real projects required by real sectors in each state. With the surge of online platforms, more of educational platforms coordinators will appear similar to present learning centres coordinators. Some of the roles are appearing already. You can find out more about emerging jobs in the “Atlas of Emerging Jobs” as one of the outputs
of the GEF work.

In conclusion, the year 2020 has accelerated the digital transformations of all sectors, but by all means, the educational sphere has been one of the most affected. When the first wave of emotional dismay is over, real ideas and solutions start getting shaped. And agents on both sides of the table need to work together to find the best ways to create a new learning/teaching experience for the years to come. The future is not only exciting but also empowering, as it gives a promise of limitless possibilities for life-long learning for everyone, regardless of race, culture, gender, sexuality, income,
age, or physical ability. And I personally hope that we will watch the rise of edutainment where not only education, and entertainment mix but also art and education meet at the edge of technological advances.

 

 

 

REFERENCES:
Amolingua [Online] Available from: http://amolingua.com/
Atlas of Emerging Jobs [Online] Available from: http://atlas100.ru/en/ (3rd edition is
to be published at the end of 2020)
Bob Cooney [Online] Available from: https://www.bobcooney.com/
CS50 [Online] Available from: https://cs50.harvard.edu/
Global Education Futures [Online] Available from: https://www.globaledufutures.org/
Singularity University [Online] Available from: https://su.org/
University of Palermo [Online] Available from: https://www.palermo.edu/