16 Apr Teaching Online versus Face-to-face Teaching: 8 Differences Worth Considering for Post-pandemic Teaching
Author: Ilinca Stroe, International House Bucharest
Teachers who had worked online as a rule before the covid-19 crisis struck and forced us all into digital immigration will probably snigger at the title. Rightly so. Full-time online teachers had already gained solid experience teaching English online, so there was no “transition shock” for them once the quarantine started, no major change, most probably no disruption in their workflow or timetable, and they don’t necessarily crave for a speedy return to “normalcy”. But to most of us, face-to-facers, shifting to online teaching came as a bit of a challenge: we asked for training, we needed adjustment and we miss things about face-to-face teaching.
So we, at IH Bucharest, decided to “take the pulse” of our teaching staff who had to migrate en masse to the digital environment to be able to resume their classes and keep making a living out of teaching during the pandemic. Via the virtual teachers’ rooms we set up on Facebook for both our young learner teachers and our adult learner trainers, we asked them all what online teaching is like, compared to face-to-face teaching. And these are the main differences they pointed out.
1) works well if you plan your lessons and activities for the digital environment: that means keeping in mind, getting skilled at operating, and making the best use of all the features of Zoom (which is the platform we use for online teaching at IH Bucharest) – including breakout rooms, the whiteboard, the chat box, the annotate function, graph design, and so on.
2) somehow makes students more involved, more committed, more focused – gone are the many distractions available in the classroom, the temptation to start chatting with the deskmate about something totally unrelated to the lesson, to go off on a tangent so easily… Instead, technology helps keep learners alert and focused on the task, it helps cut off distractions.
3) is in many ways more economical: you save time and money by not having to hop on a bus or the subway to physically get to the school or company where the class is held; and you save time and money by not having to buy lunch, a coffee or refreshments in between classes to keep you going till the end of the work day – now all of that is available and within reach right where you teach, i.e. home
4) requires teachers to be better at multitasking, as they often have to operate several functions at the same time: type in the chat box, unmute the student who raised their hand to ask the class a question, write on the whiteboard and/or share their screen to show the worksheet needed for the next task – and, of course, talk all this while, to give instructions or explain some language point.
5) occasions you to discover an amazing plethora of free teaching resources and professional development opportunities. Here are just some of the many shared recently by our teachers:
- courses on how to teach English online (from Nile and from Cambridge Assessment English)
- webinars on teaching online from the British Council, focusing on tech tools and the tutor’s role
- temporarily free access to ready-made lessons from One Stop English (till June) or to interactive PDF worksheets from Teach This
- stories for young learners, level-graded news reports or class activities using technology
6) ensures a special classroom atmosphere and energy: it’s a five-sense experience where you can fully feel the presence of the others, the smell, the touch, their body language cues, the whispers, the subtler tones of their voice. Touchy-feely and huggy people, whether students or teachers, are at their happiest in real, face-to-face classes, as they can create and experience closeness and intimacy, which help “humanise” and “personalise” learning.
7) occasions dynamic, lively interaction (arguably less disciplined than online interaction), as classroom participants enjoy more spontaneous turn-taking, with admittedly more frequent interruptions, but also with more prompt, on-the-spot responses and more occasions to butt in and make an impromptu point or a funny remark.
8) helps teachers build great rapport with their students thanks to physical proximity and closeness, thanks to gestures, eye-to-eye contact and facial expressions which are a lot easier to use and “decode” correctly in the face-to-face environment than online, and thanks to the kind of trust needed in this relationship, which is a lot more easily established and consolidated via non-verbal communication.
And the conclusion? Is the quarantine experience going to change English teaching for good? Is online going to be the norm? Is face-to-face teaching going to dwindle and gradually disappear? Hard to say now. Some of the IH Bucharest teachers, especially young learner ones, indicated they definitely preferred face-to-face teaching to online work, which they accepted because they had no choice. Others maintained that the ideal work format would be to teach face-to-face three days a week, and online two – blended teaching, here we come! Finally, others embraced online teaching so enthusiastically that they saw no reason why we should go “back” to face-to-face. So opinions vary. In the end, it might be mainly up to our schools’ management to decide, after the pandemic, whether English teaching has changed just temporarily or for the long term.
International House Bucharest runs regular CELTA courses for teachers of English at its Teacher Training Centre, as well as training events online, onsite or at partner locations. To sign up for a course or event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.