In March 2020, the world held its breath for a while … maybe a bit longer. Factories, public transportation, restaurants and even schools were closed, due to the unknown infection spreading fast through the whole world. Education at all levels moved to the Internet. And how was before that date?
Then, distance education was caused by difficult access to learning centres due to the terrain and population density or poverty. COVID-19 pandemic changes everything. It contributed to the fact that distance learning became mainstream. How do people affect by distance learning deal with it? We checked both sides of the barricade, from the perspective of the student and teacher.
THE ORIGINS OF THE DISTANCE EDUCATION
Distance education, also called remote learning, is not a product of modernity. Surprise! Its origins go back to the time of communication by the post office. The father of distance education (formerly known as correspondence education), was Caleb Phillips. He created training in shorthand (abbreviated symbolic writing method) via weekly lessons communicated by the United States post .
How can we define distance education? The general idea of distance education is spreading students and their lectures (different physical locations) and enables them to communicate using different technologies . Over the years and the development of technology, its idea has evolved to distance learning as we know it today. Lessons have started from the post office and have ended as content, which can be displayed on a tablet, a smartphone, a laptop, or with the use of Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality goggles.
DISTANCE EDUCATION BEFORE COVID-19
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning was the chance to get an education in specific geographical regions as well as allow learning for people with disabilities. For example, many citizens living in rural areas enhanced their skills and qualifications. Raid expansion of the Internet contributed to the development of real-time video and audio communication. It also forced universities to think about redesigning courses and delivering them using new tools.
On the other hand, there are also immersive technologies, like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality , which have the potential to revolutionize whole educational systems. The first one enables us to create artificial worlds inside computers. We can have objects, spaces and even events. It allows for creating a virtual laboratory, such as physics, geography, chemistry, or biology classroom.
The second one links virtual worlds with the real world. We could display pictures, 3D images, or text, which are created artificially in the real world. And the third one, there is only or as much as the expansion of second. We can actively interact (pick up objects, move them, change their size) with digital information in the real world in real-time. To be a part of immersive technologies, we need to have a head-mounted display or headset. Seen that lessons with them can be really fun.
EDUCATION DURING A PANDEMIC
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our way to distance education was not smooth, we can say that even brutal. In fact, it strongly depended on the country, governmental regulations and its resources. As life has shown, most schools and teaching institutions were not prepared for such situations.
Regardless of the degree of preparation, most countries decided to close their schools in March 2020 and temporarily go to the mode of remote learning [4,5]. Of course, it will not be possible, if the more or less advanced IT tools and technology did not exist before. The most common techniques were streaming via MS Teams, Zoom, pre-recorded video, at the same time face-to-face and online teaching and online consultations.
Do not forget about Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities based solutions. Here, they can reach out a helping hand. In many cases, the institution has had special software before the pandemic, the knowledge of how to use it was almost equal to zero. While some medical units loaned them to their students to teach anatomy during the pandemic. Linking all these issues together was a huge challenge. How do we make it?
IMPACT OF REMOTE EDUCATION ON PEOPLE
Distance education has a tremendous impact on students, which is especially visible in higher education. Firstly, online lectures forced students to completely rewrite their schedules. While in stationary learning, planning a day required to include breaks for moving from one place or faculty building to another.
Nowadays, in distant learning times, lectures can take place directly after each other, leaving little time for breaks and optimizing productive time. Secondly, distance learning somewhat enforced the students to search for information using online sources. This gave students opportunities to excel and further explore their knowledge, while also improving their critical thinking and enhancing their source-checking skills .
The huge remote learning advantages are place and time independence. Students can learn at any time of the day, anywhere they are. Of course, only if they have an internet connection. What is more, there is a significant downside of distance learning – a decrease in personal contact.
Successful learning requires students and teachers to be involved in the teaching and learning process personally since it is far more engaging. This value is significantly reduced in distance learning – separated from the teacher by the screen of a computer, students can feel abandoned with their uncertainty about the concept, and thus discouraged from asking questions.
Finally, students’ mental health has decreased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic [7, 8]. It is mostly due to the decrease of human contact, which is essential for maintaining mental health. Social distancing serves existing mental problems, as well as makes people anxious. And what about teachers? One thing’s for sure learning takes them much longer.
Distance education changes a lot, from post-office and radio to audio/video broadcasting, teleconferencing, computer-assisted instructions, e-learning/online learning, podcasting. It may offer many advantages like time and place-independences, quick access to materials, learning individualization over traditional face-to-face learning. But it is also limited to Internet access.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it allowed for the continuity of education processes. Maybe it will never fully replace the traditional model, while may not offer direct contact between the student and lecturer at the same level, but it provides a worthwhile and interesting alternative.
This article is a joint work of Adrian Romianiuk (Faculty of Chemistry, University of Warsaw), Agnieszka Pregowska (Institute of Fundamental Technology Research, Polish Academy of Sciences), and Magdalena Osial (Faculty of Chemistry, University of Warsaw) as a Science Embassy Project. Photo Credit –Agnieszka Pregowska.
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