COVID-19: Maintaining the teaching experience for students whilst delivering teaching virtually

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Aahil Damani, a 3rd year medical student at King’s College London (KCL) and will be intercalating next year. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


The last few months have been transformational for the education sector. In-person teaching, which has been the predominant form of teaching at most universities for centuries, has been forced to do a 180-degrees and deliver teaching virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been due to government restrictions: social distancing and lockdowns imposed by governments resulting in universities having to close their campuses. With exams looming and uncertainty surrounding the outbreak, it was imperative that teachers had an open-mind and adapted to the changes that would be taking place in the coming weeks and months rapidly. This has been challenging and unconventional for both students and teachers alike, however, whilst not ideal, it seems as though it is working.

One of the unique aspects of in-person teaching is the intimacy. Small-group discussions and tutorials act as a place for dialogue, academic discussion and debate to take place. Furthermore, face-to-face teaching thrives off interaction and engagement. With applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Classrooms proving to be popular amongst many universities and schools, how do we ensure that the student to tutor ratio remains such that students feel comfortable?

This is where technology enters. Until a few weeks ago, I thought online lectures and webinars delivered to masses of students were the limits of technology. I was wrong. It was not until a psychiatry lecture that was attended by many students that I became aware of the “Breakout Rooms” function on Zoom. Within seconds, the teacher was able to convert a group of 60+ students all tuning into a webinar into 12 small groups of 5 to 6. It felt like being back in the classroom; we were able to share our views and thoughts on the topic, engage in dialogue, debate, as well as catch-up with our peers, as we would in a lecture theatre. The teacher was able to tune into each of our breakout rooms, listening to our discussions and clarify any misunderstandings, providing real-time feedback. There are plans for Microsoft Teams to also introduce this feature.

The optimal student to teacher ratio can also be maintained by simply organising virtual calls with smaller groups, continuing small group teaching as scheduled if it were not for COVID-19.

Whilst technology is able to fill gaps in learning, as Simon Kuper of the Financial Times said, “online education won’t replace…but will complement” traditional methods of teaching. We must be sympathetic to those trying their utmost to make online learning effective; the COVID-19 pandemic took us all by storm and left no time for official training on how to use these platforms. Providing vigorous training to teachers to ensure they are comfortable using the applications, online learning has the potential to be powerful. With universities preparing for an uncertain future by moving to a hybrid, if not an online teaching approach, it is important now more than ever to voice our opinions on these matters and shape our future education.

Let us appreciate in-person teaching.

References:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-52412171

https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206476093-Enabling-breakout-rooms

https://microsoftteams.uservoice.com/forums/555103-public/suggestions/35000044-introduce-breakout-room-functionality

https://www.ft.com/content/65a1feb8-2eb6-44c3-815c-e05dfe9e1193

https://www.ft.com/content/554ff744-93fe-11ea-abcd-371e24b679ed?shareType=nongift

https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2020/05/19/Cambridge-University-to-hold-lectures-online-until-summer-2021-term/2661589928607/

About the author

Aahil is currently a 3 rd year medical student at King’s College London (KCL) and will be intercalating next year. His interests lie in public health, particularly health promotion and mental health as well as medical education. He has served as President of the GKT Music Society at medical school and is currently the vice-president of Students for Global Health at KCL.

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