Online learning is by no means a new phenomenon. For years, it was largely limited to universities, but in this COVID-19 era, online learning has been thrust upon a wide range of people from primary school to post-secondary education. It’s been almost two months since institutions of learning closed their doors to face-to-face in-person learning nationwide in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Online learning is definitely a “thing”.
In the early weeks, as parents scrambled to ensure their children adjusted to the “new normal” of the out-of-the physical classroom learning experience, teachers found themselves scrambling to adjust as well.
“I’m learning along with them,” said Audra Tynes, literacy co-ordinator at Centreville Primary School.
“Just trying to stay one step ahead of them, but learning as we go along, because they’re so technically savvy,” Tynes told The Nassau Guardian.
“Even with the PowerPoint presentations, in terms of being able to present the work to the students in the most effective way, I’m still learning. For me, the major highlight of being able to utilize a virtual platform is seeing the excitement in my students as they participate in our sessions, despite what is going on around them.”
Tynes, who teaches a specialized subject, had to convert her lessons to PowerPoint presentations to be able to teach her students in the online world. Reformatting lessons she said was the most time consuming.
Now that she has adjusted, she said teaching online has become easier. She makes use of the Zoom format.
“I’ve found it’s become easier than it was at the beginning because I’m learning new strategies, different things that I can incorporate to help the students more, so it is becoming a bit easier than it was at the very beginning of the process in terms of having to just reformat everything,” she said.
Prior to the pandemic unfolding, Tynes utilized technology in the classroom with her students, but she said it was used as a supplemental tool and definitely not at the level she is currently using with her first through sixth grade students.
Tynes’ specialized teaching entails intervention work with students with reading challenges. All students in her classes are reading below their grade level.
At the beginning of the academic year, the educator would have put students through testing to get an idea of their reading ability. Based on test results, she was then able to identify students who needed to be enrolled in her reading program.
Classes for the reading program are smaller than the average classes to ensure that students who need the intervention work are able to get more personalized attention.
“We focus on enhancing all aspects of reading with students inclusive of phonics, vocabulary, fluency and reading comprehension, across the grade levels.”
As a specialized reading teacher to students who are reading below grade level, she said online learning hasn’t always been the best format when her students have to read, as she is sometimes faced with a problem where she can’t always hear them.
“It’s not as clear,” she said.
“Sometimes, there are these technical glitches, so even though I would have the students reading, and we have the different techniques we use with the reading, I’m not always able to hear them as clearly as I would like. So, it [online learning] has its drawback, as opposed to being with the students face-to-face.”
Schools suspended face-to-face learning on March 15, after the first case of coronavirus in-country was confirmed.
The Bahamas has 84 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths, 25 recovered cases, eight hospitalized cases and 48 active cases as of Monday, May 4; completed tests number 1,446.
Sixty-seven of the confirmed cases are on New Providence, seven on Grand Bahama, eight on Bimini, and one in Cat Cay.
Worldwide, there have been 3,476,021 confirmed cases and 246,027 deaths.
No matter the challenges Tynes may face occasionally, she says online learning is working. Her only concern is one which most of her peers have, which is their hope that more of their students would be able to participate in online learning, while they can’t attend the physical school building.
“As teachers, we would want, in an ideal world, all of our students to be a part of it, so I’m hoping my students would get devices and be able to take part and benefit from the instruction, because the quality of the instruction is the same, just in a different way now – a different format,” she said.
Tynes has found that approximately 42 percent of the students in her specialized classes are taking advantage of her online learning classes. Her hope is that the percentage increases in the coming days. She said the students who aren’t taking advantage of the online learning classes would be the students who have not just reading challenges, but who may have the greater socioeconomic challenges.
“So, just even trying to get in contact with some of them to find out if they even have a device they could use, that would have been a challenge. I know tablets were to be distributed shortly, so I have my list out again to make another round of calls to see if I could get additional students to be a part. But I’ve just continued with it, with the numbers that I have,” she said.
Tynes works along with fellow teacher Sharon Culmer in the literacy department at Centreville Primary.