Gritty reality of online school


Mark Lyndersay
Mark Lyndersay


ONE characteristic of the first school term of 2020-2021 was how very different it was for almost everyone who was involved in it.

The common experience of hustling children to school and then heading off to work morphed into a home-based chaos that was as individual as the people who experienced it.

In just a few short days, we’ll be returning to that experience, definitely sadder, but absolutely a bit wiser. I’ve sifted through my own experiences to find some points worth sharing.

Even if you have enough space, you don’t have enough space.

From March, many of us were called on to compress school, work and home into a single building. Some already didn’t have enough space for living, far less working, and schooling.

Even if it was possible to send children to other family while working, for many that just moved the problem elsewhere.

This was the year of headphones.

Part of the problem is that living spaces aren’t designed to be co-working spaces. Even when you create adequate physical space, there’s often audio overlap. Some people are very comfortable with in-ear headphones. I am not, nor am I a fan of the vagaries of computer microphones.

There are two teachers and two students in this household of three, so sound control – in an environment in which three concurrent classes occurred frequently – was enforced with over-ear headphones (cans, in audiophile parlance) and headsets with microphones. It makes for a bulky tangle at times, but the payoff in comfort and audio quality is significant.

We are all traumatised and coping.

There is no handbook to guide anyone through this. Every solution is worth a try, and every failure is a learning experience.

When I had to shift an in-person teaching experience to virtual in March, I froze. After some pointed administrative urging, I finally got started and after stumbling through the semester, I disassembled the course and reimagined it for September’s students.

There were things I clearly couldn’t do any more.Some elements required a personal investment to bridge the shortfalls of the learning platform and my needs.

To my surprise, the exercise, not unlike servicing a race car while it’s barrelling down the track, made the course better.

The rethink allowed me to consider the course material and requirements through a dramatically different lens, which improved several aspects of the teaching process.

Students are smart.

One teacher told me about a student who would disappear from class during question time. Internet would “drop” every time there was a possibility of being called on.

In my own classes, some students were ghosts. One student attended class while driving (I insisted that he turn off video). At least two attended while at work. When I assigned a portrait during class, I got a selfie in the office bathroom mirror a few minutes later. It was pretty good too.

Teaching was always a communal experience, and everyone knows that now.

Over the centuries that schooling has become entrenched as an institution, some presumptions have come to be understood as facts. Teachers teach, parents parent and students learn. All that collapsed during covid19 and created an experience that redrew those boundaries.

Teachers became collaborators, life coaches and crisis spotters as private life spilled into camera range. Students pitched in to help with connectivity issues, passed along schoolwork and helped colleagues in private conversations. Parents had to do…everything.

Knitting the frayed fabric of the education experience into something comprehensible was now a job for everyone and that may be the most important lesson for the education system after covid19.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of An expanded version of this column can be found there

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