Un an d’enseignement par Zoom

Un témoignage de William Birdwell, qui nous livre ici son expérience d’enseignement à distance, imposée par les conditions sanitaires de la crise du Covid-19.

« Here’s an uncommon idea among my teaching colleagues: I enjoy teaching on Zoom.At the age of 64 I am far from being a “Digital Native”. I am usually a late adopter of new technological changes. I am a little risk adverse, and I like change on my own terms. I like calling people instead of texting. I like paper boards and books. Yet like everyone, I spend several hours per day on Internet. Sometimes I love it. Other times sometimes I hate it. For better or worse, I have come to depend on Internet and all associated with it for many of my professional activities and processes.As an executive education trainer, I have always loved the face to face contact with learners and the buzz and stimulation that can only be found in the physical classroom. I get a jolt from the intellectual exchange, personal experiences shared among the participants, the emotions and adrenalin rush when things are going well and when things are not, and above all the Aha moments. I miss welcoming learners for the first session, the chatter at coffee breaks, and sharing meals with the participants.

There are stories of teaching on Zoom, Teams, or other on-line videoconferencing platforms that sound like tales of Gothic horror: instructors and learners without stable Internet connections or the right technology; little interaction from the learners; too many people in cramped conditions; and not enough human contact. I tried out videoconferencing in early 2019 as a novelty and said it was not for me. Then March 2020 came along and everything changed.

Since March of 2020, I have found that ZOOM is adapted to the limited number of participants that I have in my classes and seminars. For individual training and coaching I have seen little or no change in the quality of learning or satisfaction of the participants.  For my seminars of 8 to 12 participants, I have noticed insignificant change in group interaction and dynamics. Dealing with 6 to 12 learners on a screen is doable, and the experience is a fairly close to the real classroom. Breakout rooms for sub-group activities and discussions are easy to organize. As videoconferencing has become the new norm for many internal meetings, I have found that my participants have become more accustomed to this new media are now more comfortable and engaged when learning through videoconferencing tools.

REACH: Videoconferencing also allows for meetings and training with participants scattered all over the country and in other countries as well. In the past this would have been prohibitively expensive and environmentally harmful. Last week on the same day, I coached a client in Rome in the morning, and the afternoon I had a wrap up session of a seminar with 8 participants located in 5 cities in France. It is true that the learners miss the atmosphere in the classroom and the instructor the facial expressions and body language that communicate important messages. However, in exchange we have more possibility to connect people and share more personal experiences and practices that are extremely rich and edifying.

To my surprise, the discussions over ZOOM are just about the same as those in the physical classroom. My impression is that participants are less inhibited speaking while ZOOMING than they were before in a “live” classroom. They seem to take more risks to voice their opinions in front of their peers and managers. They also seem more focused.

From a personal point of view I don’t miss traveling back and forth to clients; crowded public transportation; the unexpected traffic jams, the overnight stays in hotels, the 6:00am TGV. The ZOOM dress code session is much more “relaxed” for instructors. Wearing a suit is now out. Casual and smart are in! Teaching by ZOOM also means I can teach in shorts in the summer! I have grown allergic over the years to the awful coffee from vending machines in companies and trying to find a table in a new company cafeteria at lunch can be despairing. At home excellent coffee is only seconds away and lunch is whenever, wherever, and whatever I want.

The environmental and safety benefits of video teaching are non negligible.

Teaching by videoconferencing still has its carbon footprint but it is much less than training in a physical classroom. I do not have to commute to a client’s premises or learners to off site facilities. The non-productive time traveling has been eliminated as well as the risks of accidents and spewing out pollution getting to a client’s premises.

I’m well aware that not all instructors like video teaching and that some learners now prefer the classroom, especially those learners who spend several hours per day videoconferencing. We have forgotten the challenges of the physical classroom can be as difficult as those on video-conferencing platforms. Most of these obstacles associated with videoconferencing can be overcome by, the right technology, competent and motivated teachers and the flexibility and open-mindedness of learners.

Mass on-line teaching has been imposed on the education industry. Many teachers and learners might go back more than willingly to face-to-face training after the pandemic. However, I think many of videoconferencing’s advantages will remain, and that instructors and learners will want to blend on-line learning with the physical classroom experience. »

William Birdwell

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