DISTANCE TEACHING: TOOLS AND METHODS

Taking advantage of the emergency due to the Covid-19 epidemic, how to do distance learning is also today a much debated topic.

In fact, distance learning has become a requirement for school and university students.

And Italy had to adapt, like most of the world.

It must be said, however, that many realized, right away, that the school system of our country (but it was not the only one) found itself unprepared.

So whoever started the countermeasures did so in a slow and disorganized way.

The problems arose mainly due to those who did not have much preparation in the field of devices, software and the web.

We will see below some strategies and techniques to optimize the distance learning experience .

And we will do it by analyzing the point of view of the student but also that of the teacher.

At the same time we will indicate which tools and devices are necessary to use them.

 

THE CONTENT SYSTEM AND THE COMMUNITY SYSTEM FOR DISTANCE TEACHING

The modality that applies with distance learning (abbreviated to DaD) is that of e-learning (digital learning). We have reached the third generation of Dad

However, this is not a novelty of our day.

Already towards the end of the 19th century, yes we are really talking about the end of the 19th century, there were the first signs.

Just think that the first examples of shorthand correspondence courses date back to that time.

Instead we have to get to the late twentieth century for the massive diffusion of courses on VHS first and then CD.

Unlike other methods of distance learning, e-learning makes it possible to maintain the social component.

This means that the sense of community that comes from learning together is not canceled. even if there is no physical presence in the classroom.

Attention to the social role of learning is transposed into the structure of the e-learning systems, in which two macrosystems interact.

 

THE CONTENT AND COMMUNITY SYSTEM

We are talking about the content system, which identifies the set of resources and information available for the acquisition of the individual.

And that of the community: its characteristic is to understand all the tools that allow dialogue between students and with teachers, including verification systems.

The advantages of this type of interaction are undeniable.

First of all, students can use the teaching resources in a semi-autonomous way.

They can organize times and spaces for their own study and thus foster attention and readiness for learning itself.

On the other hand, teachers can best calibrate content based on student feedback. And most importantly, they can make contact with individuals more easily.

 

THE STUDENT-TEACHER RELATIONSHIP

It should not be forgotten, then, that the student-teacher relationship is not resolved only in the transmission of contents.

But it belongs to the broader sphere of relationships of personal growth and formation, which stimulate reflection, study and analysis of problems.

The third generation distance learning allows the overcoming of space-time barriers.

We therefore observe that one of its particular strengths is the great flexibility in the ways and styles of learning.

This entails the possibility of personalizing the training course in light of the specific skills and objectives to be achieved for each pupil.

Including those who find themselves in disadvantaged starting situations and learning difficulties.

However, it is necessary to point out that this system is not free from defects and problems, which we will analyze in more detail later.

 

THE IMPACT OF DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES ON HOW TO LEARN FROM A DISTANCE

The start of the digital era has made it possible to minimize the steps and costs for information research and organization operations.

To prove this, it is enough to compare the ease of web searches to archive searches or libraries.

The limits of classic learning techniques, which are decidedly more “analog”, are often evident. They are noted both with regard to the methods of access and use of several individuals at the same time.

We will discuss the various implications of this statement further.

For now, we can assume that, through the tools of technology, information is accessible to many more people.

And this regardless of their income level or geographic location.

It is therefore natural to conclude that through the internet, computers and tablets learning becomes easier and faster than ever.

 

WHICH TOOLS ARE USED FOR DISTANCE TEACHING?

As we have already seen, there are two communicating macrosystems at the base of the distance learning apparatuses.

So let’s first focus on the content systems we mentioned above.

Any media can carry information.

This means that, potentially, all the platforms that allow the sharing of audio, video, images or text can be found in the content system.

However, to maintain and enhance the community system, a combination of different tools is often used.

A choice dictated by the need to satisfy different communication needs.

 

THE SOLUTIONS OF THE MINISTRY OF UNIVERSITY AND RESEARCH

We have collected and show you below some solutions proposed by the Ministry of University and Research.

  • Google has developed G-Suite which brings together the already used productivity tools on Android and Gmail in a single environment. Through Classroom it is possible to create virtual classes and, thanks to Meet, live video lessons are possible, all accompanied by file storage on the cloud Drive .
  • Microsoft has developed Office 365 Education A1 , which includes a web version accessible to all of the Office work tools (Word, Excel, Powerpoint). It also offers the Teams portal for video lessons, virtual classrooms and several other management features for students and teachers.
  • Amazon has created Chime , a video conferencing tool that appears very versatile.
  • Tim collaborated on the development of WeSchool , a digital classroom platform.
    The project allows teachers, from App or computer, to easily bring their class online.
    In addition to inviting students, creating lessons, sharing materials, discussing, managing group work, assessments and tests.
  • A large number of Italian universities, on the other hand, prefer to use the open source Moodle platform, which is particularly useful for managing teaching material. For universities, the transition from classroom teaching to Dad has been smoother, although not without difficulties.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF PLATFORM IN DISTANCE EDUCATION

The fundamental aspect that unites all the solutions presented for distance learning is their characteristic of being platforms .

A computer platform is a software base environment that can host applications.

Each includes different tools, addressed to the multiple needs of communication.

The platform is essential because it brings together all learning needs in one virtual place. It also reduces the chances of student distraction.

It can also become the subject of user training for teachers.

The platform allows contact and, as a direct consequence, the sharing of experiences between distant and even very different communities.

HOW TO ORGANIZE THE DISTANCE DIDACTIC LESSONS?

The distance lesson cannot be configured in the same way as the live classes, in particular as regards the duration.

It is more efficient to divide a lesson into smaller sections of 30-40 minutes each to make it easier for students to access.

And, above all, to divide the concepts into sections that facilitate the teacher’s exposure.

In particular, the debate and comparison with students is functional to long-term learning.

Discussion that can follow the distance learning lesson or be modulated at a specific other time.

The lesson is therefore inserted in a perspective of global learning which, among other things, is not reduced to the exposure of contents by the teacher.

Indeed, it includes an important dialogic component. In this broader context, there are four phases:

  • Independent study  of the didactic contents, in the form of videolessons or written handouts.
  • Activation , i.e. the proposal of exercises or tasks to be carried out independently.
  • Restitution , therefore the phase in which the student self-assesses their skills.
  • Debriefing : the conclusion of the learning process. This important step leads to awareness of the contents acquired along the way. And also to the comparison for the resolution of any uncertainties.

The balance between the phases must be adjusted in relation to the different levels of education and maturity

For example, the method of cascading words can be proposed to elementary school pupils .

A way that allows, through the creation of nursery rhymes, fairy tales or short stories, to rationalize the events involving the child, thus placing the accent on phase 2 and 3.

Thanks to this process, the alienating nature of distance learning can be lightened. And, the child, for his part, can express his point of view, as well as keep a reflective gaze on himself.

A SWOT reflection is proposed to older students

– Strengths : strengths.

– Weaknesses : criticality.

– Opportunities : opportunities.

– Threats : risks.

It is applied to current events or logical / mathematical reflections on data and statistics, thus favoring phases 3 and 4.

Just like in school, the demands must be proportional to the knowledge.

The evaluative aspect of learning is not lost, as it constitutes the fulcrum of the whole system.

In fact, it is the yardstick for measuring students’ preparation.

Teachers carry out their pedagogical function precisely at the moment of the test.

That is when the student becomes able to solve the problems and the demands of the subject independently.

We will deal with these elements in more detail in the following paragraphs.

 

FOCUS ON THE ITALIAN SITUATION

The validity of the proposals presented up to now is not limited to emergency situations, but is a great opportunity to evolve into innovative pedagogical practices.

From an economic point of view, Italy is characterized by the massive presence of small and medium-sized enterprises, which can hardly drive innovation.

This factor therefore has repercussions on the educational system’s ability to keep up with the times.

Furthermore, the national technological infrastructures are not at the forefront, especially if we take into account the gap between the large centers of the North and the rest of the country.

 

CONNECTIVITY FOR SCHOOLS IS A CRITICAL POINT

Currently, “23% of upper secondary schools, 11.2% of lower secondary schools and 9% of primary schools are reached by a connection of at least 30 Mbps. However, it should be emphasized that this bandwidth is not able to offer fast response times, and therefore a functional DaD  .

The 2019 AGCOM report on the state of network infrastructures makes it known that, in order to have a school that can be defined as digital, three fundamental factors are necessary:

  • Ultra-broadband internet connection.
  • Creation of an “efficient telematic network”.
  • “Maintenance and updating activities so that the effect of the technical backwardness of the infrastructure can be governed”.

However, it would be reductive to assess the maturity of the digital school system on the basis of these three elements alone.

«The e-maturity of a learning ecosystem», explains the AgendaDigitale group, «should take into account in a balanced way the infrastructural aspects (network, hardware and software), skills (technical, technical-didactic, technical-managerial).
Furthermore, the impact of ICT on both educational and organizational and administrative processes, the strategic vision and policies that characterize the ecosystem.
Finally, in a culturally deeper and more advanced vision, of the well-being of all the actors participating in the process ».

Therefore, doing digital school is not just a question of hardware, but it is above all a cultural characteristic.

We will see below how Italy has moved, we focus, specifically, on the decisive period during the Covid-19 emergency.

 

DIFFICULTY AND PROBLEMS WITH THE DA: THE ETHICAL ISSUE

Education is a right, which “must be addressed to the full development of the personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Hence it is recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Distance teaching can intervene to preserve the realization of this right when learning according to traditional schemes is not possible.

It is therefore of fundamental importance that the school system is digitized and that the mechanisms that compose it are up to the task.

One of the first problems encountered in the implementation of distance learning is the lack of basic hardware tools.

MANY ITALIAN FAMILIES HAVE NO MORE THAN A COMPUTER IN THE HOUSE

The Istat data, in fact, underline that many Italian families do not have more than one computer per unit.

It is incredible to think that, even in the South, 41% do not have one.

These results bring out the first obstacle: to do distance learning you need computers and tablets, and not everyone has them.

The institutions and communities, recalled by the needs of the Covid-19 emergency, therefore quickly moved with aid and assistance initiatives.

The aim was to ensure that everyone could be able to take advantage of digital devices.

However, differences and discrimination may re-emerge.

A confirmation appears from the United Nations report dating back to 2011.

Access to the Internet facilitates the realization of fundamental human rights, the inability to access it, due to lack of tools or a connection, consequently prevents it.

UNESCO therefore recommended to the states the introduction of policies to reduce the digital divide (digital divide, that is the difference in the possession of technological tools) and above all the development of inclusive education.

We already talked about the social component of learning at the beginning of the article, and we continue to highlight its importance here.

 

LACK OF REFERENCE POINTS FOR STUDENTS

What scares the students the most is, of course, the absence of reference points, being left alone or unheard in times of difficulty.

It is therefore essential for the teacher to involve the student directly in the educational process, since it is a product aimed at him.

If this type of contact fails, the entire pedagogical apparatus will lose its meaning.

However, it is also true that, through digital tools, the emotional component of communication can be missing, and therefore the very essence of teaching as an activity.

Written communication, which often necessarily replaces live interaction via video, can appear cold and detached, and thus divert the student’s attention resources.

It is therefore very important to keep the feedback channel alive, also negatively returning the proposals from each party.

 

THE CASE OF DISABILITY

Let’s examine another case study that should not be overlooked.

Some students, even with the essential devices for DDA, may not be able to take advantage of the learning due to physical or mental disabilities.

If at school they could be physically assisted by specialized teachers and therefore follow a personalized and calibrated path, it can be difficult to do the same from a distance.

It therefore becomes essential to involve families and students who, in this situation, will not be limited only to a role of support for learning.

Instead, they will have to take charge of its human and relational component.

THE THREE FUNDAMENTAL ADVANTAGES OF DISTANCE EDUCATION

Third generation distance learning allows you to overcome the obstacles of space and time, allowing three essential advantages that we have already highlighted:

  • Free use of contents, according to personal times and places.
  • Maximum personalization of the educational path.
  • Continuous bilateral feedback.

However, not all students possess effective time-management and organizational productivity skills.

It can therefore be very difficult for some to have large amounts of content in a short or long time.

In this case, the outcome of the assessments may be negative.

In addition, it is assumed that all students have effective interpersonal skills with other students. And therefore they are able to work in a team, which is not always true.

Providing for the realization of lessons with the different existing methodologies presented at the beginning requires specific training for teachers.

And it is a type of training that has proved to have an impact in terms of costs and time.

It is not only aimed at the technical-methodological perspective. Because, as already seen, distance learning does not propose the same methods used in live teaching.

It is therefore necessary to implement new pedagogical tools, such as:

  • Flipped education : it is a pedagogical modality that actively involves students to better adapt to the different needs and difficulties of the classes.
  • EAS , or Episodes of Situated Learning , the modality already presented on the operation of the online lesson.

I think, at this point, it becomes clear that distance learning cannot be improvised. Rather, it must be structured methodically.

 

HOW DOES EVALUATION TAKE PLACE IN DISTANCE TRAINING?

Lastly, let’s look into the question of evaluation.

Distance learning makes it impossible to verify knowledge in the usual way.

The reason is that there is no direct control from the teacher.

You can adjust your evaluation experiences in relation to the tools used. In this way, methods such as the oral interview via video or closed-ended questionnaires are favored.

However, it is impossible to assess the safety of the control systems, making the results unreliable.

In fact, nothing prevents students from copying or using tricks to distort the answers.

The problem still remains open, and will perhaps require a complete rethink of the terms of the evaluation.

In fact, no longer feasible as a negative instrument of investigation, but as a positive measure of responsibility.

Finally, we conclude with a collection of tips and advice for teachers and students, eight pills to better enjoy the distance learning experience.

 

4 TIPS FOR TEACHERS …

  1. Gamification: that is, “make the task playful”, lighten the lessons through the use of progress-reward mechanisms. This method is especially suitable for elementary school.
  2. Preserve your leadership role: a teacher is a teacher, that is, from the etymology, “the greatest”. Not only does it disseminate content, it also provides a way to interpret it. So do not limit yourself to the lessons, also seek the comparison with the students.
  3. Combine educational needs and human needs
  4. No student deserves to be left behind :everyone has the same right to education, and therefore everyone deserves the best of you.

 

… AND 4 TIPS FOR STUDENTS

  1. Cultivate self-study :this is the key that unlocks the mechanism of learning. And even more so if this happens at a distance, since the greater your responsibility.
  2. Time management :try to find the most efficient method to manage as much information as possible in the shortest time possible.
    Of fundamental importance is a careful and scrupulous daily planning of tasks and activities.
  3. Keep relationships with peers alive :unfortunately it is easy to lose contact with your study colleagues. Especially if the daily school meeting is missing. Maintain, indeed renew these relationships because it helps to develop teamwork and collaboration.
  4. Be responsible, diligent and correct :your education is above all your responsibility.

Invest as much as possible in what the school gives you, as it is an extremely valuable asset.

 

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