As a teacher for almost 20 years, I have always taught my students through a traditional setup, which is face to face interaction inside the classroom. Currently, I have to implement online classes as a way of adjusting to the new educational system. The traditional approach has always been easy for me since I could immediately praise their desirable behavior and rectify their mistakes, as a form of reinforcement. Frankly, I am not convinced with the behaviorist approach of reward and punishment in effectively motivating my students to learn. I disagree with the principle that the mind of a person is a blank slate or a Tabula rasa.
Conversely, I do believe that our students already possess certain knowledge over particular topics. They just have to be guided by the teacher to sharpen what they already know. My view on education is more on the Socratic principle, that is, knowledge comes from within us. Our mind is not a blank slate but somewhat a computer or a sponge. In such a scheme, our mind seems to operate like a computer since it has the innate ability to process symbols coming from the environment. As our mind interacts with external objects, it has its mechanisms that would automatically process and interpret them. In other words, our mind tends to create meaning or make sense of those undefined, unrelated, or abstract symbols from the environment. I also view our mind like a sponge since it can absorb infinite loads of information that results in its growth.
With such principles in mind, I constantly apply the Socratic method in my teaching. The said method suggests that formulating the most appropriate questions is the key to learning. As the mind operates like a computer, its potentials can be unlocked through a battery of questioning since it possesses answers that may solve many mysteries of this world. Its growth would depend on the information that it absorbs from time to time like a sponge. So, the more it gathers information, the greater its growth would be.
I have mastered the art of questioning in teaching my social science classes in college. The key is for my students to exert some effort in searching the answers for themselves. Fortunately, many of my students in the past responded positively in such a technique and have even remembered me for throwing them lots of questions. I have advised them that the secret is asking the right and important questions to unravel the answers that are hidden within them.
With the existing health crisis, our educational set up has drastically changed from the face to face interaction inside the classroom into an online class mode of learning. I am now feeling nostalgic about my memorable experiences in a traditional classroom setup as I engage in my online class session. Here are the things that I miss in a traditional set up of learning:
- Face to face interaction with my students. Classroom setup has a personal touch to teaching since we would know who our students are physically and psychologically. Their individuality or identity is profoundly revealed in a classroom setup. We would know what type of students we are dealing with. It is easy to detect who is the nerd (asking lots of questions), jester (those who always joke around), attentive (who reacts appropriately to my questions or jokes), noisy (those who talk a lot as if they already know everything), bashers (those who always criticize my lecture), and those who simply want to pass the subject. This is the value of face to face interaction, which is effectively evaluating the types of students that are included in a class.
- Reading their facial expression. This is one thing that I miss in a traditional classroom set up, my students’ facial expression. I am always intrigued and motivated to explain further when some of my students would show a vibrant facial expression. But, some of them tend to frown every time I give a controversial comment about a particular social issue. Some of them may even laugh or smile when I accidentally make a joke while others have a poker face expression or might be clueless about what is happening inside the classroom. This engagement tends to enhance our ability to read people’s behavior since the facial expression is an outlet of one’s emotion and one’s state of mind.
- The impact of the dreaded recitation. Since I always ask questions for every lesson that I discuss, one of the things that my students are anxious about in my class is the dreaded recitation. When they recite, I like to challenge their ideas by asking more questions and requesting them to expound their answers. We always debate on issues respectfully or politely. To avoid anybody being offended, I apply certain rules to regulate the debate such as being polite, no personal attack, choosing their words wisely, apt tone of voice, and offering sincere and constructive comments. Surprisingly, a debate is very appealing to many of my students since new ideas are being generated and their ability to think critically is being enhanced in the process. Plus, they like to watch two or more people arguing about a difficult social problem while all of them trying to insist that they are right (it’s a fun sight for them).
- Eye contact is the next key component that makes face to face classroom setup very effective. As a teacher, I have always identified those students who are listening or not listening. I frequently say to them that the “eye is the window to one’s soul.” The eyes tell many things about a person. I could effectively sense if someone is already hungry and want to take a break because he/she frequently looks at his/her stomach. A student may not also be interested in the lesson since he/she tends to look far away outside the classroom. Some are sincerely looking straight at me and at the same time writing some notes. I could also detect some who pretend that they are listening but they are daydreaming about life outside the classroom as they try to escape my boring lecture. Most importantly, I can identify who is cheating or taking the exam honestly by observing the movement of their eyeballs. I could discern that a student is honestly thinking about an answer because their eyeballs are actively circling which suggests that there is a brain activity. On the other hand, those who cheat have their eyes sharply focusing on their target, which is the paper of their seatmate. Cheaters’ eyes have always betrayed them without them knowing it.
Now, we are trying to implement the online educational system and implement a synchronous and asynchronous style of teaching. Synchronous learning is done online and it is also called distance education. Although it is distance education, the learning occurs in real-time with a set class schedule just like in an actual school setup. On the other hand, asynchronous learning is not done in real-time since the materials are uploaded online including the lecture, activities, assignments, and others to be complied with by the students on a specific deadline. If combined, the system is called blended learning (Negash, et al, 2008). This educational system is new to me and is distinct from the traditional set up in many aspects. Here are my observations on the online class:
- There is a limited face to face interaction. I seldom see my students physically since the internet connection is slow and many students have problems in their tablets, gadgets, etc. The schedule is unpredictable and we frequently encounter technical difficulties.
- It is difficult to read their facial expression. When I instructed them to post their pictures for their formal identification in my class, some of them posted their social media pose with wacky posture or showbiz smile/facial expression. Understandably, millennials have the habit of posing like a celebrity or star. But, I reminded them to treat the online class as a formal setting. Some of them have even posted an avatar for their picture, which I rejected for the same reason.
- It is hard to identify who is listening, noisy, and others. Their identities are stagnant because I could not observe any physical qualities, values, or behavior. It is like I am dealing with a virtual person, without emotion or even a real personality.
- Their performance is measured through their written response to my question. Although from time to time, they submit a video recording of their response to my question, the authenticity of their answers is undetermined. The only thing that I could do is to trust them that they are honest enough in complying with the activities, assignments, and exams.
With the difficulties that we are facing through an online class, I am reminded of Aristotle’s quote, “the roots of education are bitter but the fruits are sweet.” Even though I am still on the experimental stage in executing such a system, I see positive things out of it. Here are those:
- My students would become great writers since many assignments or activities are done in a written form. I strictly implement the “no plagiarism policy” in my online class. They have to write an original comment about the issue and they have to perform the assignments and activities by themselves. They have to strictly comply with the oldest saying,” Honesty is the best policy.”
- We may become Vloggers in the future because of our frequent exposure to videoconferencing, video broadcasting, and others. One of my methods is to video record myself and upload it to our social media class. I have always been camera shy but now I am enjoying a little bit of such exposure through a video recording that may lead to a vlogging venture in the future (I hope so if my courage would allow it).
- Through the online class, the cognitive learning theory about the mind may be confirmed as true. In the same advocacy, the mind seems to operate like a computer or a sponge. It can process the information on its own based on what they receive from the environment. The mind has the natural ability to perceive various unrelated or unconnected objects and make them into a whole or a reality that makes sense (Sternberg and Zhang, 2014). As my students engage in an online class, I am quite confident that they would be able to learn for themselves based on the lectures, instructions, materials, assignments, quizzes, and activities that I uploaded on our social media class. I believe that their minds would be able to absorb lots of information based on their phasing coupled with their strong commitment to learning despite the challenges that we are both facing in this new educational system.
Negash, et al (2008).Handbook of Distance Learning for Real-Time and Asynchronous Information …
Sternberg, R., and L. Zhang (2014).Perspectives on Thinking, Learning, and Cognitive Styles. Retrieved from,