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What you should know about online distance learning

By LEI DIMARUCUT-SISON Published Sep 27, 2020 10:47 pm Updated Oct 02, 2020 7:18 am

If you are clueless about how classes are conducted in the new normal, here’s first-hand information from parents. The good news is that online learning makes your child’s teacher more accessible to you, and vice versa.

The opening of classes is always a frantic time for any parent with school-age kids with notebooks and textbooks to buy, school uniforms to be fitted, and orientation seminars to attend before the opening of classes.

Not this year.

Instead, in June and July, parents were busy looking for the best-priced computers for their children, cramming to learn web applications like Google Classroom and Zoom, and struggling to manage their kids' daily schedules and theirs. This is our new normal as COVID-19 continues to change life as we know it—even the way children are getting their education.

Kids don't have to wake up so early or spend hours in traffic

THE DAWN OF ONLINE DISTANCE LEARNING

To enforce physical distancing and prevent the virus from spreading further, the Department of Education implemented distance learning where students and teachers meet online exclusively, instead of face-to-face, with the help of technology.

This presented a major shift for many parents whose kids were used to going daily to campus and meeting with their teachers, classmates, and friends.

Since some private schools got a headstart on school year 2020-2021 (some as early as July), we asked parents what the new normal in education looks like.

1. Classes are shorter, groups are smaller.

Gellie Ortilla, a businesswoman from General Santos City, says a typical online class for her kindergartener Liv lasts only an hour a day, unlike when she was in nursery when it went on for three.

“The teacher is very strict with punctuality as time is very limited. She makes sure that classes start on the dot, which is a good quality to demonstrate to children at a young age. Not only does it show discipline, but also respect to one another,” Gellie says.

Mom Aila is concerned about how well kids can grasp the lessons by just studying virtually, so she needs to constantly learn and re-learn alongside her son Aeron.

She says students are required to log in on Zoom, a video conferencing app, 10 minutes before class so the kids could interact among themselves.

May Lopez, a single mom and a vice president for a real estate company, has three sons going to the same university. What used to be whole day schedules for Paco, Grade 10; Kico, Grade 8; and Rocco, Grade 5, have now been shortened to about four hours per day.

2. Learning management systems or e-portals may be different per school.

In lieu of a physical structure like a classroom where teachers and students could meet up, schools have either set up their own learning management systems, or are subscribed to e-learning services like Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams.

A learning management system is a web-based program that is used as a primary communication tool between the teacher and the students, as when posting class schedules, Zoom links for conference calls, and other reminders.

According to Jenny Suarez, a lecturer at the UP College of Fine Arts, since school started for her third-grader Olivia, the teacher has been allotting time in their schedule each day for training so the students could familiarize themselves with the system.

"From 10 a.m. onwards, they have to do online training, which includes watching videos on how to navigate the learning management system that they'll be using this school year," Jenny says.

That said, parents can expect their child to go through a learning curve in the first few weeks of school.   

3. Online learning is categorized as “synchronous” or “asynchronous.”

Having classes online does not mean having a web conference with the teacher and the other students (synchronous) all the time—there’s also what is called asynchronous activities.

“The students are given tasks—a seatwork, an assignment, or a project—through the school's learning portal, and they have to accomplish these individually. They have to finish these by a given deadline, then upload them to the portal for checking," explains May.

Under “asynchronous” learning, students are not engaged in the same activity at the same time, and there is no interaction among them while they do schoolwork.

Jenny believes asynchronous learning has been helpful for Olivia. “These activities designed for self-study or directed learning have helped improve my daughter's study habits. She now does the assigned tasks on her own,” she says.

4. Online learning makes your child's teacher more accessible to you, and vice versa.

Aila Tiglao, whose son Aeron is in Grade 6 at a university in Quezon City, says communication with the teacher is easier and getting feedback is faster now.

“After the teacher wraps up the lesson, she sends the end-of-class summary to the student's email. This daily report is certainly helpful for us parents because we use it as a jumping-off point for a discussion with our son. From there we can assess the areas where he needs intervention,” she says.

Online distance learning poses some new challenges for parents nonetheless, such as managing their time.

ADVANTAGES, DRAWBACKS, CHALLENGES

The most obvious benefit of online distance learning during this time is minimizing the kids' risk of getting COVID-19. “And my sons like not having to wake up so early to travel to school,” adds May. Or spend hours in traffic, we might add.

Many will agree that these are commensurate trade-offs to higher electricity bills and a ballooning family budget for food, not to mention the trouble of dealing with sporadic internet service.

Online distance learning poses some new challenges for parents nonetheless, such as managing their time.

“Preparing Liv for school takes up my entire morning, sometimes even afternoons. She belongs to the 10 a.m. class but we start our day at 8 because the school encourages us to utilize the time before class to do homework, arts and crafts, and other activities so that the kids come to class warmed up and ready to study,” says Gellie.

Like many parents, she needs to work on her patience, too, she admits.

May says establishing a routine with her sons has been helpful in teaching them independence. As she is also working from home, it can be quite challenging to manage four different schedules.

Communication with the teacher is easier and getting feedback is faster now.

“I have to put up a door sign if I am in an important online meeting so they won’t knock or barge in unannounced.”

Aila is concerned about how well kids can grasp the lessons by just studying virtually, so she says she needs to constantly learn and re-learn alongside Aeron.

“As a parent, the biggest challenge is to help your child understand the lesson when you yourself need to refresh your memory.”

As for the kids, there are things they miss for sure about attending school the traditional way, like going to school events, running around the campus, and the simple joy of talking to another person face to face.

Hope remains that those days will come again, but for now, the virtual environment will have to do.