In progress ! The pandemic shatters traditional teaching patterns


What teacher has never encountered the sound of a jackhammer during their lesson? The effect is generally the same: we get annoyed and we plague, we look for the origin of the parasite, we can act on it (or not…).

But, in normal times, everything ends up returning to order, and you can resume the course of your educational activity as if nothing had happened.

The pandemic is a jackhammer that imposes itself, which goes in through the window when you want to close the door, and which gradually invades space and minds, becomes the center of everyone’s concern, for end up permanently destabilizing traditional educational systems.

Redefining the class

Before the pandemic, for many, a class was above all an enclosed space in which the teacher and all the students were gathered according to specific spatial arrangements, at the same time, all concentrated (more or less), with a common purpose.

Parasitic elements could appear: external (the jackhammer, the snow which begins to fall in large flakes, cries in the corridor…) or internal (the video projector which breaks down, the whispers between students…). Their appearance, generally sudden, and their duration, more or less short, reminds us that the usual elements of the context are generally controlled, mastered, integrated by all the participants (teachers and students).

But, the teacher, strong in his status, quickly ended up refocusing the attention of the group and resuming his traditional role , of the one who “knows”, usually, and who masters all the parameters of the didactic context:

  • his current session,
  • the educational sequence in which it fits,
  • more generally, the curriculum as a whole, a temporally marked course with a beginning and an end, constructed according to a specific progression with formative and summative evaluations.

This traditional educational plan was integrated by everyone: teachers, supervisors, students, families, institutions. The pandemic shook him very deeply, and the basic parameters of the class were durably altered.

Reposition yourself to teach

First of all, the organization and the spatial cohesion of the class-group change: at best, it can be divided into sub-groups according to health constraints, or even, with home-taught students, integrated into the group or the day subgroup by interposed camera; teaching in “streaming” has become in some countries one of the methods of structuring the class-group.

At worst, the teacher is all alone in front of his camera, in his class most of the time, each taught in his home in front of a computer, a tablet, a smartphone.

The family circle is thus likely to break into the class which has become partially or totally virtual. Parents and siblings become direct witnesses of the educational system, “intruders” because they are not part of the traditional “actors” of the class.

The sometimes harmful consequences of this intrusion lead the establishments to set up a charter of good practices, so that the families undertake not to interfere with what is happening in the classroom, which has undergone an extension. (towards the home) and transformations (from face-to-face to virtual) which shake up the traditional structure.

The focus on the learner, on knowledge and know-how is also profoundly altered, in favor of the focus on the elements of the context which become a priority generating lasting insecurity. The parasitic effect is all the more disturbing as these elements are difficult to control and their duration is difficult to predict. The organization of teaching time is altered, whether it is the time of the session or the longer duration of the course.

The teacher’s position is seriously shaken. The latter is in fact no longer an expert given the multiplicity and gravity of everything that escapes him and which becomes the center of attention, with a direct impact on the general organization of the educational system: the time of the pandemic, the opening or not of establishments, the holding of assessments, the teaching methods (face-to-face, hybrid, distance learning).

The total lack of control of the parameters of the health situation, and the impossibility of anticipating sufficiently in advance the events to come, all this makes that short time becomes the reference, and uncertainty reigns.

The emergence of the pandemic has caused a stunning effect . The crisis has set in over time, resignation and despondency are not far away.

Manage distractors

Once the factors due to the pandemic – including the uncertainty that impacts the organization of different school hours – are established over time, they must be integrated as an intrinsic component of the new didactic context.

Ultimately, and as long as the pandemic imposes its scenario, the aim is for the impact of factors due to the pandemic to be attenuated, or even neutralized. But for this to be possible, it is essential that there be lasting adjustments in the new scheme of basic “class” parameters.

First of all, assume that the pre-Covid is over. Difficult to integrate, of course, but beneficial. It is likely that the pandemic will end one day (or not!): In the meantime, we have to live with it.

Then, we have to ask ourselves how best to do this, by integrating this parameter as an integral, lasting, non-negotiable part of the context. Institutions and teachers who have been confronted with the distance learning modality for more than a year are adapting. They set the rules for what has become the new daily life for teachers and their learners: not taking an online course from your bed, or in your pajamas, with a can of soda; get dressed, do your hair, sit in a dedicated place, put yourself in a situation “as if” you were in class. Because in fact, we are in class.

Take the good old “communication scheme” of Roman Jakobson: a sender addresses a receiver (which can be a group) to transmit a message using a channel using a code (preferably common) . What could be simpler ! Except that the pandemic shatters this structure, distractors take a preponderant place. It is necessary to provide an appropriate response to each distractor:

  • A domestic animal in the field: a discreet presence can be a source of “icebreakers” and well-being (the driving force behind “cuddling” in times of crisis).
  • Family environment: total and absolute neutrality must be required, including through a charter or a signed commitment. This cannot be negotiated under penalty of calling into question the very nature of the didactic contract.
  • Technical mastery: maximum training is one of the essential prerequisites. Teachers and learners must have a perfect command of the tools used: these contextual elements (the code and the channel) must (re) become totally familiar and totally mastered by everyone. In the same way as in a pre-Covid class, one cannot imagine a teacher or a learner not mastering the language used for a course, or the photocopier which is used to reproduce the supports, or the handling of the video projector, from the blackboard or whiteboard, from the textbook, etc., in a post-Covid classroom, one cannot imagine a teacher or a learner not having mastered digital tools.
  • Adaptation of teaching methods: a learner in front of his computer is subjected to a multitude of solicitations. It is perfectly illusory to imagine denying him access to social networks or other distractors when we do not control the computer support that is at his disposal. From there, teachers are forced to integrate this dimension by ensuring that learners do not have the time / inclination / possibility to give in to these distractors.

New reflexes

Organizing a post-Covid course can be much more time-consuming and demanding, much more inventive and creative. This can consist of systematically requesting various types of resources in the same sequence. This can lead the teacher to a different time organization, a lesson session planned over relatively short and perfectly structured periods of time – a one hour lesson divided into three or four sequences for example, and in which the learners are systematically. active, individually, in pairs, in groups, on the basis of activities specifically designed for this purpose.

The principles of the “flipped class” , favoring times of discovery, documentary research, various online consultations, should be valued and many trainers are not mistaken who offer online training for the flipped class, since the start of the health crisis. Because these times which result from the “inversion” are learning times prior to the class session itself.

The spatio-temporal parameters of the traditional class are thus subject to a lasting extension: the class is what there is before, during, and after the class session itself. And in such a new didactic scheme, the traditional lecture of one or two hours very clearly belongs to the pre-Covid era and seems for many well and truly over.

The “reception” of the course is also deeply shaken. Whether on the material level (having in front of you a tablet or a computer, and its notebook or file, this requires a specific organization, space, flexibility to alternate the time dedicated to the keyboard and the time dedicated to the notebook ), or in terms of information reception and processing strategies.

Listen, understand, direct your attention, express your wish to intervene in class – the famous hand of Zoom, a potentially powerful distractor! intervene by controlling voice adjustment, microphone, video, etc., all potential sources of discomfort and lag in what corresponded to the good old ordinary interactions of a classroom.

Author Bio: Laura Abou Haidar is Senior Lecturer HDR at the Université Grenoble Alpes (UGA)