ELT Blog

Challenges of Teaching Online & Using Technology in Teaching

When I first started teaching online, it was in 2019. Before then, I was working with my students offline, seeing them every day in my classroom. However, all across the world, COVID-19 was only spreading and shutting down cities one by one. I knew the virus would eventually reach my country (Uzbekistan) too, but I did not have much idea how I would reach out to my students and teach them English online when it evantually reaches. It was not a matter of 'if', it was matter of 'when'.
So on April 1, 2019, the very first case of virus infection was detected, and the whole country was shut down for a quarantine. It was all scary. I still could not figure out how I would teach my students online, forecast how long the shutdown would last, or analyze what I should do next. But one thing I knew. The virus was here to stay. That day was quite depressing.

The next day, one of my ex-colleagues from Westminster International University in Tashkent (WIUT), Rawshan Malikov, phoned me and taught me how to use the Zoom app for my online teaching. My very first online lesson was short but highly productive. The whole day I spent learning all the ins and outs of the platform, then reached out to my students via our Telegram group, and the next day I was ready to have online session with them. Almost everything I do as a teacher got back on track except for some of my students who decided not to study English online due to some technical challenges they faced and personal learning preferences they had.

I taught my students and future students online for about two years until my another colleague from WIUT persuaded me to pause online teaching for some time and start teaching offline, which I did for several reasons.

Reason-1: Pedagogical Limitations

After two years of online teaching, I was perhaps a little exhausted of Zoom platform as a technology in general. I thought that Zoom would evolve and become an even better platform for teachers, offering them more advanced, interesting, and exciting new pedagogical tools and features. However, it did not improve much in my eyes and I soon felt quite bored of its dark, old-school user interface and 40-minute limitation on a free plan. Moreover, for the Zoom platform to function properly as Hagler (2019) reports educators and students should have a lot of bandwidth otherwise the quality of audio, video and even the stable connection between the parties will be greatly risked and this may cause a lot of discomfort during the online sessions.

Reason-2: Zoom Fatigue

I also noticed that when I started teaching my students online, I found myself sitting all the time, which is something I do quite rarely in my physical teaching environment. I often move here and there when speaking to my students and walk around the classroom when the students are either working in pairs or in small groups, ensuring that they are task-focused, working, and moving forward. With online teaching, that was not the case, unfortunately. I found it hard to remain seated all the time and even started being impatient at times experiencing a backache during the sessions. At some point, I also noticed that I was struggling to be cognitively sound after several online sessions with my students. Ramachandran (2021) reminds that when a person calls another person he or she has an illusion that the listener is totally concentrated on the speaker or caller but in reality he or she may be doing a lot of many other tasks such as cooking or communicating with another person nonverbally. Now Zoom completely destroys this illusion and as an educator using the Zoom platform with the camera on teachers may find stressful to be always trying to look good on the camera to their students on the other end.

Reason-3: Challenges with Assessment

Another major problem that I had was assessing my students' knowledge. All of my exams were held in the class under the strict exam conditions using traditional paper-and-pencil based approach, because I was teaching pre-university students using ready-made text-book materials such as Headway 4th edition by the University of Oxford. Therefore, I simply could not properly assess the knowledge of my students when they were all separated from me by distance. Therefore the trustworthiness of my assessment was under a big question by myself and in order to ensure that my students were not cheating I was supposed to use the tools such as Proctorio, ProctorU, Exam.net as suggested by Verheijen (2020). However, this meant that I must make another financial commitment which I did not want to as I had the Premium Zoom account paying $ 15 every month.
Against the odds, I once attempted to administer a live online exam in which I asked all of my students to turn on their device cameras so that I could see if they were attempting to cheat or not and displayed them the PDF version of the exam paper on my laptop screen. It did not work well as some students were accomplishing the tasks earlier than their peers and wanted me to display to them the next page of the PDF document, while others wanted me to not move on to the next page.
Overall, it caused some confusion because, under the strictly regulated offline exam conditions, they were strongly advised to remain silent and only raise their hands if they had any questions or problems while writing.
What was your online teaching experience? Please share in the comments section below.
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