'Online Learning Is Something New That Is Changing Me—And the World'
Vitaliy Mingalev, Senior Lecturer at the Sociology and Humanities Faculty of the HSE campus in Perm, has taught for almost 20 years in various higher educational establishments in town, as well as at schools, lyceums and continuing education centres. Nevertheless, the total shift to online education has been a new teaching experience for him. He shared his thoughts about the new format with the portal’s news service
About the Profession and Online Teaching Experience
Fate brought me to the Perm campus of HSE in 2013: since then, I have been teaching courses on history and archaeology here. Like my colleagues, I began teaching online full-time from the start of the lockdown. However, we made active use of online technologies even before the pandemic: advising students on course papers and projects, and often holding lectures for teachers and classes with school students on Skype, MS Teams and Webinar.ru. However, the full transition to working online was a new experience for me. In fact, we used to see online learning as an addition to the main thing, which was offline education.
When you teach with the same method for many years, it is difficult to modernize, if you are an outspoken advocate of online education.
I often spoke publicly about the great education services available, sites with open access and how to modernize classroom instruction. But I’ll be honest: I behaved more like a traditionalist. I used handouts for assignments and preferred auditorium-based lectures with presentations.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Distance Learning
I love online learning! It is something new that is changing me — and the world. The main advantage is that students have loosened up and ask questions more often. I always say it’s better to have a student who has forgotten his notebook but has a thousand questions than a student with a thick notebook, big round eyes and a single question: ‘Could you repeat that?’ What’s more, students began studying more assiduously after the transition to online learning. Many say that they can make better use of the time normally spent on commuting to class. Year after, I have heard and read that each person’s education proceeds in its own way, although education itself has not changed much.
Online technologies enable students to design their own learning track
One person might study better in the evening or at night using asynchronous classes or a recording of synchronous classes. You have to agree that it’s difficult to imagine physical classes held at night.
Many students assimilate the lecture materials the first time around. Others need to repeat parts of it two or three times to get it. Everyone learns at a different speed and here again, online learning is head and shoulders beyond offline. Some students are excellent researchers. After hearing this or that thought, they start dissecting it, looking online to check their ideas. If they did the same thing during a physical lecture or seminar, they would get distracted and only return their attention to the lecture 30 minutes later, losing the train of thought and failing to complete this or that task. This is no longer a problem. Working online, I can also react quickly to a student who says he or she can’t find something by posting the needed material to the group and — boom! — question answered. I could go on and on listing the advantages of distance learning, there are so many!
Now for the disadvantages, or rather, the challenges of online learning and the need to rethink a number of things.
First, the students and I don’t get enough ‘live’ communication and personal meetings (which we make up for with chats). The lockdown was a major blow to student clubs. In my opinion, many of them were an important part of the educational system at HSE. To transfer them online would negate the whole idea of the student club, which is a place where young people can meet based on common interests.
Second, the motivation to study is an important task in online education, but one that lies primarily on students’ shoulders. There are more distractions at home and time management becomes very important.
Third, it seems to me that it is difficult to build social relations under current conditions, especially if all those relationships were previously dependent on friends in specific social institutions such as nursery schools, kindergartens, schools and universities. But this does not mean that face-to-face social communication will disappear: it will simply become more socially based and less institutional.
I should point out that I speak as someone in the humanities. The current level of technologies makes it very difficult to teach the natural sciences and medical and technical subjects online, and simply impossible for many subjects. I think that the use of computer simulations and modelling could significantly change the teaching of even the natural and medical sciences. Of course, for some forms of project activities and training practices, online learning is practically impossible.
Most importantly, the new format pushes instructors to look for new possibilities and forms of teaching. In some cases, this will lead to combining different forms of instruction, and in others, to replacing the old method with one that works better under current conditions.
The Resources Employed
I chose the platforms that are most accessible for my students and me—Skype and LMS. I use the Russian Electronic School (RES) for my work with schoolchildren. I conduct open lectures using Webinar.ru. My experience with colleagues led me to believe that by the time the quarantine was introduced, the online world had become so advanced that everyone was able to choose whichever platform and form of learning were most convenient for them. The Internet was better prepared for the new reality than people were. Future competition between these numerous platforms will probably cause several leaders to emerge, but for now, we are in a sort of ‘free-for-all market’ in which the consumer can choose exactly what he wants.
Education after the Pandemic
I am certain that many things about the way I teach will change. Only time will tell to what extent I return to delivering lectures in the auditorium, but there is no doubt that the online component will increase.
I hope that the whole system of secondary and higher education will change dramatically. The word ‘hope’ is key here. The Russian and global systems of education have needed this jolt for a long time. It’s a pity that it came under such unpleasant circumstances and was prompted by the need to self-isolate. After the lockdown, it will be hard to ignore the fact that online education really worked. How could we possibly forget that a different type of education is now possible? Some of the platforms will prove to be more flexible and popular, while others will become ‘outsiders.’ I think paper-based tests and assignments will become outdated. As AI in education develops, computers will be used increasingly to check students’ work.
Although the role that the teacher and educator play in the educational system will change, it will not disappear. To the contrary, it will gain in importance
The demand for private tutors, however, will decline. In our society, education must regain its status as a value, not a given. If the question of getting an education will depend on how organized and self-motivated the student is, rather than on how frequently he or she visits an educational institution, then this will probably happen.
I do not advocate a total transition to online learning, but I am sure that creating a flexible, hybrid system of learning is the future of education — if it wants to keep up with the times.