Teaching in China this spring has been quite the experience. The semester began, as scheduled, on February 10th. Instead of physically returning to campus after the month-long Lunar New Year holiday, we started teaching online. The epidemic prevention period in China, AKA “Coronavirus Lockdown” was already a few weeks old by then.
From late January until just recently, all across China, schools and businesses were closed. People’s movement was restricted, and they were expected to stay inside their apartments most of the time. In my complex, we were given three exit tickets each week. These tickets allowed us to re-enter the complex if we left to go shopping. Wearing masks and temperature checks were mandatory.
Unlike Chinese public schools, most international schools (and programs like the one where I work) were using some form of online learning prior to the lockdown. In theory, this should have made the shift to full-time online classes go smoothly. In reality, things were anything but smooth. It’s my understanding that public schools did not officially start learning from home until early March.
Moving classes 100% online was tricky since some teachers, as well as students, were stranded abroad and across China. Because no one expected all hell to break loose, many were not traveling with laptops or other materials needed to teach or attend classes online.
A Typical Day Teaching in China (Online)
Initially, we delivered our lessons asynchronously using Schoology – one of the few tools not blocked by the Great Firewall. Within a week we were expected stream lessons live using Zoom. If you read my previous post about the internet in China, you know that this was bound to be full of problems. The internet did not disappoint . We’ve been plagued with connectivity issues.
Instead of mimicking our regular schedule online, our classes have been condensed. Students attend each class for one hour instead of the three 100-minute blocks we typically do. So at 9AM, I should have a class of about 84 grade 10 students. That’s if everyone attends, which is not always the case. We take attendance in through the Zoom chat window.
For whatever reason my students rarely ask questions during class on Zoom. They usually message me through Schoology or via email at random times throughout the day. I only respond (internet permitting) during reasonable hours much to the chagrin of my students. The kids would prefer to send me WeChat messages but they don’t respect boundaries and would be blowing my phone up all night. #nothankyou
Unique Challenges When Teaching in China (Online)
The biggest issue by far has been internet instability. There were several times where I was ready to pull my hair out. Many students would get kicked offline in the middle of an assessment. Streaming video was a nightmare. Uploading any documents or files could take hours.
One of the reasons we started to stream classes using Zoom was to provide a more interactive class experience. But here’s the thing, my students refuse to use their cameras – I think it might be a cultural thing. So for an hour each day, I get to talk to myself online with virtually no feedback from my audience. It’s kind of surreal.
Online Teaching vs Face-to-Face Teaching
We are about to start our 11th (and final) week of online classes. The grade 12 students returned to campus two weeks ago. Grade 11 students are scheduled to return tomorrow. If everything goes well, my kids will return the following week.
If my students are anything like the seniors, they will be quite happy to return to school. I think they prefer face-to-face classes since they get to see their friends. Where as in the US students hangout with their friends outside the school day, that doesn’t happen much here. During a typical school week, most students live on campus only spending time with their families on the weekend.
While we’ve been teaching online, due dates have basically been meaningless which should change when we return to face-to-face teaching. I’m not sure my students are ready for that. Some of them still have not submitted any work at all. Online learning requires skills that most of my students did not have when we started on this path. It been an enlightening experience to say the least.
Another area where face-to-face instruction wins out is when it comes to cheating. Trying to get the kids to understand that plagiarism is wrong is hard enough since Chinese culture doesn’t really see it that way. But trying to root out academic dishonesty in a completely online environment has been next to impossible. As a result I can’t really gauge whether or not they’ve learned anything over the last 10 weeks.
The New Normal
Things will be a little different for the remaining nine weeks of school. Every person who enters the campus (7,500 + people) must submit to temperature checks and check-in via the provincial health app every day. All teachers and students are required to wear masks during class. Cafeteria services have been streamlined to allow for social distancing. Each classroom has been supplied hand sanitizer. There’s even soap in the bathrooms.
Will this be enough to prevent a new outbreak? Only time will tell.