With the sudden shift to online learning last year, I have been concerned about the increased stress on students. As one of those who been an international online student, I was aware of the crushing loneliness, fear, anger and frustration it can engender. Thus the increased need for applications to help with student well-being.
One of the benefits of online learning is that it does allow better monitoring of students, giving early warning of problems. With conventional teaching, a student with a problem could remain invisible at the back of the class for months. One technique I like to use is small frequent online assessed items. These can be automatically or peer assessed so little teacher effort is involved. This way, each week I can have the LMS sort results in ascending order, and see which students need help.
However, I suggest these well-being monitoring techniques need to be extended to the teachers as well as students. Last year I watched with concern as my university colleagues in Australia, and across the world, who had little training in online teaching, attempted to quickly move their teaching. It took me seven years of formal study at four institutions, three qualifications, mentoring by experts, plus trial and error, to become comfortable teaching online. My colleagues had a few weeks.
While I tried to provide some simple tips, some lessons can only be learned through practice. Having hundreds of students, who are not there by choice, and are also highly stressed, is not the ideal situation for learning to teach online.
Overall the crash conversion to online learning in 2020 went well. However, some of my colleagues assumed it would only be for a few weeks, then a few months, then a semester, then two. Some are having difficulty accepting that this change is permanent, at least for universities who wish to remain solvent. If all goes well, the COVID-19 pandemic should be over in a few years time. However, most students will continue to undertake the majority of their study 80% online, in blended courses. Emergencies could see them online again for all study, suddenly, at any time. Automated help for monitoring all our well-being would be useful.
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