Why do we call it ‘ e-learning ‘ when we mean video conferencing?



Since March 2020 we have been living the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and we have been able to observe its consequences in the educational system. We have been talking about the potential of Information and Communication Technologies for many years, but it is now that we have realized what virtual teaching means.

The analysis cannot be done in a general way, because in stages such as Early Childhood Education and Primary Education it is the families who act as intermediaries in the educational process. In this case, we are going to focus on Secondary and University Education, since it is where mostly blended or totally virtual teaching has been implemented during this school year.

We all use the concept of e-learning , but few know with certainty what teaching is like in these systems. Reviewing the so-called “contingency plans” in education, we find names of all kinds: hybrid education, bimodal teaching, synchronous presence (is there some type of presence that is not synchronous?) Or our favorite: “synchronous virtual presence.” If there is presence there can be no virtuality, they are exclusive terms.

Beyond the curious thing about the denominations, which we are sure that they start from the good faith of the institutions to organize this chaos of teaching modalities in which we live, what shows is the little knowledge and preparation that our educational system has to adapt pedagogically to online education. And it also hides something more important: the perception that what is face-to-face is what is good, what is worth, and what is virtual is not.

The face-to-face should not be made virtual

The problem is derived from the ignorance of what online teaching means and this has caused the change to the virtual modality to have occurred trying to “virtualize” the classroom. In other words, we have tried to teach in the same way that we would in-person.

If I have six hours of class in person, now I have to give the same classes by videoconference. If I do a multiple choice test in person, my concern is video surveillance.

But we are forgetting that virtual teaching is a model that goes further, that allows us to overcome the walls of the classrooms and design collaborative situations , project-based learning , interactive activities, work on tutorial action models … Similarly, we should think of other evaluation models more adapted to the virtual space such as oral presentations, reports, research papers or critical analyzes.

Simulate the classroom

So, in reality, what has happened is that we have become obsessed with videoconferencing as the main teaching tool, because it is what allows us to simulate a face-to-face class. We are not going to deny the usefulness of videoconferencing, but assuming that we are doing virtual teaching because we teach classes by videoconference is like putting on a false mustache: we are still the same and doing the same, even if we want to dress up.

The problem is that we forget that working in a network implies rethinking (a lot) the methodologies of online teaching, and therefore, the evaluation , since the process becomes more important (as stated by UNESCO ) than the product (why how obsessed with final exams?).

Technology does not solve problems

The point is that the question should not be how can I do what I do in person in a virtual way? But rather, how can I teach in another way ? We spend a lot of time contemplating the latest fashion technology without knowing how to answer the most important questions: why this medium? Why now? Because technology alone does not solve anything, the teacher who gave bad classes will continue to give them by videoconference and the one who was creative will continue to do so virtually.

This situation is actually an opportunity. We do not intend to hold anyone responsible, least of all the teachers who are making a titanic effort to survive the current academic year, but somehow we have to consider the educational model towards which we are going.

The UN proposes it to us in an interesting way: the tremendous effort that has had to be made (unimaginable for many more than a year ago) has shown that change is possible. Let’s take the opportunity to redesign the educational process, the content organization and the methodologies that we apply. We do not want to return to the old normality, we want a new one where the centers and teachers are endowed with resources and tools to allow this change.

Teachers must acquire digital skills

In addition, there is a small part of responsibility that does correspond to us as teachers: we can try to remove our false mustache and train in digital teaching competence .

Thus we will learn that neither virtual education is just videoconferencing, nor is evaluation just examining. And this situation, despite everything we have against it, may be an opportunity to renew teaching.

Author Bios: Maria del Mar Sánchez Vera is Professor of the Department of Didactics and School Organization and a Member of the Educational Technology Research Group and M. Paz Prendes Espinosa who is a Professor of Educational Technology both at the University of Murcia