Race To The Bottom

The current pandemic and supposed “emergency teaching” situation has thrown a wrench into the smooth-rolling machine that is typically “education”. Teachers, schools, administrations have transitioned (or perished). There’s been a lot of change as classes were hell-mell put online and teachers were asked to “do their best” and “make a go of it”.

I’ve been following the transition and what’s settling in and staying. I’m not very optimistic. So here, I’d like to set out a laundry list of all the things I see as “not so positive”. A starting point for some reflection. For another day, I’ll post something more positive that I see happening out there – especially the valiant attempt of teachers to adapt.

Disruption. The rush to go remote, online, go digital has created opportunity for disruption. As brick and mortar language schools go under or try to transition to the remote teaching dynamic – there is a race to the bottom occuring.

Our culture seems to believe “technology” =s “effortless”. I don’t know how this came about and there must be a book about it. However, it ain’t so. But it is what it is. This paradigm means students won’t pay as much as before when attending a regular class. So what does that mean for teachers? Less pay of course!

And it will even get worse. There is a lot of consolidation happening in the online language teaching world and it’s all about numbers. The “companies” don’t care if students finish their courses or succeed at speaking English fluently. They care about the numbers. So it benefits online schools to have a transient population of students who never complete courses (but of course pay!). So it becomes a game of numbers and not educational outcomes. That’s sad for teachers.

A future trend

And then there is the new gig in town, that of the liberated “contract teacher”. Freedom, teach while sitting on the beach with your laptop. Got an M.Ed – sorry not needed. We just need someone with a smile and perky voice. You get my point. It’s a race to the bottom. Less pay. No benefits. Alone. No voice or control of how and what happens. Curriculum – it’s set. Don’t worry, don’t want you thinking too much. And of course, we’ll take teachers from low income countries for sure – it’s all about the numbers.

It’s not a rosy, “new” world out there when it comes to online teaching jobs.

Delivery. I belong to a good number of national teaching organizations and have been following the conversations happening in their online forums. Most, nay ALL – have just flipped their usual class schedule and stuffed it into a zoom room Teaching 18 hours a week normally? Now, just get up, fire up Zoom and teach 18 hours as if in your classroom. That’s it, all good and done.

See a problem with this? I do.

Nobody is talking about implementing a strong online curriculum – no, just low scale replication (thinking of the SAMR model). I’ve been stunned by the lack of any promotion or discussion of blended learning – a proper balance of asynchronous to synchronous (70 – 30 as an average). Nope, just get students onto Zoom and I’ll pretend to teach and they’ll pretend to learn.

Learning & Teaching Online – The Reality. It’s tiring. Draining actually. I hear teacher after teacher, student after student saying they can’t take it anymore.

For students, is peering through a camera really effective, engaged, experiential learning?

Research shows big gaps in the social and communitive affordances while learning through a camera. You lose A LOT of information. And if we truly are and do believe in constructivism – isn’t this the death of learning?

What about our active, tactile, touchy tots? Do we really think they are benefiting fully, developing fully through sitting at the kitchen table and looking, listening to a voice on a laptop?

And this … Students we also know – if given an inch will take a mile. Sorry to be so pessimistic but if we’ve created our little world of push buttons and boxes online – don’t you think students will always find the easiest way to complete things, to get around things. I’m worried there is a whole lot of copy and paste, click, click, click and just complete it … and whole less of actual learning, curiosity, engagement, community, mentorship.

For teachers – teaching online is 3x the usual planning. There are all kinds of added preparations given the use of new online tools and environments. I hear constantly of how drained teachers are and of the pending crisis as so many experienced teachers are preparing to leave the profession.

Teacher health. I’ve written extensively on this previously but it’s concerning that most teachers are sitting in a chair 8 + hours a day staring at a screen. All kinds of health issues arise. Physical for sure but also mental. And who will pay when it’s a race to the bottom and there is no money budgeted for such luxuries as days off to recover.

Parents. There is a burden being placed on parents that many just can’t handle. Parents are expected to help their children make the transition to online learning. To be a tutor. To monitor student study. But is this realistic in most cases? And in most cases, is it really happening as it should. I’m doubtful.

Classroom management. The surveillance society is coming to education. Investment in monitoring, controlling, enforcing student learning has skyrocketed. Is this the world we want for students – an online world where their every eye lid movement is assessed? Where students become a number, a dot, a byte, a pixel on a screen that is monitored constantly? And I know students will fight back – fight and hack. Like hackers, they’ll stay one step ahead of the game. But the question online will always be – how do I know that my students did this work?

The left behind. I have written previously about this – so many are being left out, explicitly or accidently from educational experiences online. Be it from their need of assistants, tutors, help to learn as with special education or those students that just can’t make the leap into the online world of study. The students for whom learning isn’t from and all about just “the neck up” to paraphrase Sir Ken. Also, those without access to all the necessary tools, tech, wif and resources demanded for online learning.

Conferences. Many have made a lot of $ from conferences over the years. They are in many cases million dollar affairs. And the beat goes on. Just flick on your Zoom and you are “in” – but still pay that $100 to $300 for the pleasure of watching while in your pyjamas, coffee in hand. Is this really the future of CPD? And to boot – still the same old, same old line-ups of parachuted in professional presenters that lack any notion or knowledge of the local context. Still all about the Hollywood and not real, interactive, productive professional development at the classroom and local level.

Ok. I will stop here. This was written off the top of my head and I’ll come back to it and shine it up.

In the meantime, if interested in learning more about teaching online – visit my page HERE, full of helpful articles, resources and advice.


Also published on Medium.

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