I am a High School teacher of English as a Foreign Language at the six-year Kugel High School in Holon, Israel. During these coronavirus times, like all teachers, we have had to do it from home, and since the beginning of May, at school too.
We were sent to teach from home overnight. We had to explore many ideas to teach fully online and test countless apps and tools available. Our focus remained, however, to stay in contact with our students, and give them individual attention. While some of us may have had some experience teaching online before, this was a new reality for all involved: Parents, pupils, school authorities, teachers, and more. It must have been the same in many other countries, too. We all speak COVID-19 language now.
Middle and High School Teachers in Israel are overloaded with work in “normal” times —whatever that means now—, and dealing with teenagers is in no way similar to dealing with college or university students, let alone professionals in companies and organizations. Likewise, teaching teenagers online and remotely is not like teaching adults.
Like many of my colleagues, I am “overzoomed.” (I did not make this term up. I have heard people say this). I get the feeling that there has been an overuse of Zoom and similar Virtual Classroom tools (I have used BigBlueButton). It is then with some sort of relief that I have gone back to teaching both “physically” and “virtually”. On the first Tuesday of May I went back, physically, to school. We are combining face-to-face (or should it read “face mask-to-face mask”) learning with distance learning online.
Back to a new rulebook
When meeting pupils in class, the “New Normal” calls for so many new rules as to how to do my job as a teacher that I would not try to explain them here. These are probably similar to those in many countries all over, worded in a similar way in different languages.
I am Moodle-addicted. I have been using Moodle for blended learning since 2013 when I was introduced to the open source LMS by Dr. Nellie Deutsch, of Moodle4teachers (and EduTuber) fame. Having to teach fully online did not come as a shock to me. It was still a shocking experience anyway. I have made heavy use of Moodle, with a bit of BigBlueButton.
I get the feeling, however, that most teachers are either unaware of the added value of using an LMS. Perhaps they are scared of using it because the possibilities are manifold and seem to be too difficult to handle. It’s true: Moodle can be overwhelming. Others are told to use other digital tools, which often have positive, albeit limited effect.
For several years I have encouraged colleagues to give Moodle a try. Moodle is much more than a set of digital tools. It is also an excellent venue to promote collaboration and connections. We use either the LMS provided by Moodle Mashov, an organization working closely with the Ministry of Education; or with a Moodle platform from the Ministry directly. On either case these platforms are safe environments for teachers and pupils alike.
For how many more will elearning’s first experience be fearful?
I get the feeling that many colleagues are overwhelmed by something they do not know. (Or are told to get away from.) This s a pity. To mention just one more added value of using Moodle, enabled on the Ministry of Education’s Moodle Platform there is a unique feature: The “Accessibility Bar” which offers, among other things, automated text-to-speech generation. This is great for pupils for whom accessibility is needed. (Yet beneficial to all.) At all times, but especially in coronavirus times, the needs of these groups must be addressed.
Perhaps the Coronavirus Times turn out to be a turning point to using learning technologies like Moodle in the teaching of English in public education, in Israel and worldwide. As we wait for further developments, including a new edition of the “How to use Moodle in the English Classroom” Professional Development Workshop, headed by Israel’s Ministry of Education English Language Education Director, Dr. Tziona Levi; we continue to observe and explore important questions (like “How can we make learning visible?“), fully aware that they continue to outpace our answers.