Today, Romanian schools largely have eLearning platforms generally based on the most popular collaborative educational platforms designed by Microsoft and Google, which contain mail group modules, virtual classes, videoconferencing, presentation and testing. In the context of the pandemic generated by COVID-19, the first thing that crashed was the medical system, quickly followed by the economic environment and then, obviously, education.
Even if virtual education has been a concern of the educational system and implicitly of the management of educational institutions in the past, in the context of the pandemic generated by the COVID-19 virus, virtual education has become a challenge not only for the education system but for the society as a whole. It is obvious that every participant in the education system needs to be continuously informed about the new trends in eLearning so that the education system can keep up with new students, born in a digital era. Now, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole education system has changed from a classical education system to an online education system based on eLearning.
The 2020 coronavirus crisis has shown an old weakness of the Romanian education system, the incomplete adaptation of the teaching process to the use of digital tools. In the Romanian education system, eLearning became a must on 15 March 2020,when the whole education system was reset for eLearning because of the state of emergency.
This paper aims to identify how teachers’ activity is perceived as being influenced by transposing interaction with students in the virtual space, otherwise formulated, the analysis of how teachers perceive online activity compared to traditional face-to-face activities, identifying advantages and opportunities which distance learning offers, as well as the recognition of the limits, dysfunctions and difficulties encountered by teachers in online activities. In the absence of a decent technological infrastructure at the level of teachers, but especially at the level of students, without consistent ability in the area of digital skills of teachers, without access to dedicated online platforms, such as Virtual Learning Environment or Virtual Classroom, with digital and multimedia teaching resources precarious, without a time horizon to be devoted to online activity, teachers were forced to support teaching activities in a very special regime. The experiences, positive or negative, acquired during this time represent valuable resources not only for those directly involved in the activity, but especially for specialists in education sciences, because the decantation of these experiences can be capitalized epistemologically through suggestions for optimizing educational policies, curricular contents, initial and continuous teacher training.
Digital technology has greatly facilitated the continuation of distance learning activities during the suspension of courses. However, part of the usual (face-to-face) teaching activity cannot be done online / distance, thus having a negative impact on sound learning. Teachers report dysfunctions in terms of the following learning support activities: authentic communication and human relationships, personalized support for students with special learning needs. The online activity has, beyond the obvious advantages, limits in the teacher-student relationship. However, it also has limitations, which have a negative impact on effective learning, as an important side of face-to-face teaching cannot be done virtually.
Explainable, the support they traditionally provided to students with special needs or learning difficulties is difficult to provide online, given the implicit technological limitations. In reality, in the online environment, each student can represent for the teacher a possible situation of learning difficulty, thus making it difficult to identify those with real problems. Even if the teacher knows his class and students well and knows who needs additional support, this could possibly be done after the online teaching activity, through individual counseling. It is very difficult the personalized interaction with a specific student in the context in which the contact is not direct, the teacher is followed online by an entire class and each student asks for his attention.
Online educational platforms, streaming platforms, in general, facilitate real-time communication between the teacher and his students. However, communication in this case is very often perceived as somewhat artificial, partly due to the impossibility of obtaining real communicative feedback (which makes communication authentic), and partly due to the awkward context of placement in the virtual space. The fact that you can be recorded, the fact that you can be heard by anyone (not just your students), not having a real control of the target audience, determines the teachers to build a correct, consistent, fluid discourse. Nonverbal communication and mediated use of paralanguage complete the difficult paradigm of online communication where communication is done through instant chat, and some clues that good nonverbal communication could produce to support verbal communication are now lost through specific interruptions or blockages. these sessions in conditions of limited bandwidth capacity or loaded traffic.
An interesting element is that teachers appreciate the monitoring of online learning as difficult to achieve. We are talking about the lack of an authentic dialogue with the class, the impossibility of following the students’ notes, the difficult administration of the evaluation tests, for which it is necessary to resort, most of the times, to another online digital resource. The lack of personalized support opportunities for students with special learning needs is signaled by teachers in all cycles of education, being a significantly bigger problem for primary school teachers. Syncope in monitoring the pace of distance learning seems to be one more impediment in secondary education.
Among the difficulties in carrying out distance teaching activities, teachers report, in order: lack of tools for classroom management, feedback and evaluation, technical difficulties – platforms to be installed, not working, lack of pedagogical support for learning activities sufficiently efficient and / or attractive for all students: lack of appropriate teaching-learning-assessment tools in their subject, lack of educational content (digital resources) in the subject area, lack of a sufficiently efficient computer and lack of time for proper understanding and use of digital tools and resources.
Analyzing the teachers’ opinions regarding the teaching process in the conditions of carrying out the online teaching activities during the suspension of the face-to-face meetings, it can be noticed the preponderant identification of the disadvantages, natural in the context of radical change of work. Suspension of face-to-face teaching activities can negatively affect the learning process in general. Teachers find that they spend more time than in the traditional way and find it much harder to motivate and keep students’ interest awake. Teachers discover the limits of working tools and online platforms through direct experience, the conclusions they reach being, in fact, known from the literature in recent years.
As a teacher, I can say that the student has access to digital information, but does not have a habit of learning in this regard, many other studies show before the present that the habit of students to use devices is in the direction of social programs, music and entertainment. f for students with good and very good results the adherence to the way of learning with the help of technology is a long-term one (and thus have an elaborate technological code) for students with average and poor school results this is more difficult (they have a certain type of restricted technological code, based in particular on the use of technology for social and entertainment purposes). The school needs to be more involved in reducing this discrepancy (giving students more often topics involving the use of technology) so as to reduce the gap between the two types of technology codes.
This paper provides important clues in relation to several dimensions: the importance and state of the technical infrastructure on which the online learning formula is built, the skills of use or exploitation for the benefit of learning, from the perspective of teachers, of this equipment, position and involvement of factors education in the development of this way of activating education (teachers, students, parents, decision makers, etc.), the degree of coverage of the purposes of education through the new technical framework, the predisposition of the Romanian school curriculum to fold on the new virtual learning coordinates, directions desirable to reform the legislative and procedural framework for education, changes of emphasis regarding the teaching-learning-assessment processes, future directions of teacher training, etc.
Among the most eloquent results, we mention:
- Regardless of the performances of the technical framework, the teachers’ abilities, the degree of adaptation of the contents to the new context, the teaching, learning, evaluation process is diminished, it loses consistency, quality, naturalness;
- The success of distance learning is a result of a collaborative effort between the teacher, computer scientist, system engineer, school manager, the performance of the communication network, etc. and not an exclusive attribute of the teacher;
- Through „distance” education, it is possible to orient the self-learning process to students, to discuss homework, to administer tests, etc. than to teach, in the true sense of the word, new knowledge, processing or application of theory in relation to practice, etc .;
- Not the entire school population has the necessary technology, access to sources that guarantee education based on new technologies and the respective user skills; in addition, the national or European computer system may become inoperative, overloaded, with the risk of slowdowns or blockages of connectivity;
- Online education can exclude categories of students – such as children with special needs, learning difficulties, out of school, dropouts, etc.
The current period reveals problematic aspects of education systems, in which equitable access to (quality) education seems to prevail as a priority direction for improvement (Schleicher, 2020) 3. As the results of this research indicate, the Romanian education system also has some key points that the situation of suspending classes in the classroom seems to accentuate.
1. Lewin, C., Smith, A., Morris, S. and Craig, E. (2019). Using Digital Technology to Improve Learning: Evidence Review. London: Education Endowment Foundation. Online: educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Using_Digital_Technology_to_Improve_learning_Evidence_Review.pdf
2. P. Botnariuc, C. Cucoș, C. Glava, D.E. Iancu, M.D.Ilie, O. Istrate, A.V.Labăr, I.O. Pânișoară, D. Ștefănescu, S. Velea. Școala Online – Elemente pentru inovarea educației, Raport de cercetare evaluativă. Editura Universității din București, București, mai 2020.
3. Schleicher, A. (2020). How can teachers and school systems respond to the COVID-19 pandemic? Some lessons from TALIS. OECD Forum, 23 March 2020. Online: www.oecd-forum.org/users/50583-andreas-schleicher/posts/63740-how-can-teachers-and-school-systems-respond-to-the-covid-19-pandemic-some -lessons-from-talis