Carlo Domingo Casinto
Faculty of Business and Logistics, Bahrain Polytechnic, Kingdom of Bahrain
In retrospect, the virtual teaching experience of the English language program of the Faculty of Business and Logistics (FoBL) in Bahrain Polytechnic is not unique. Similar to the other programs of higher education institutions across the globe, the program has made a 360-degree virtual shift in response to the disruption of the global pandemic COVID-19.
The Challenge: Apart from the expected connectivity and technical issues, an equally important recurring concern that the program has to face squarely head-on is ensuring the quality of virtual teaching. Ensuring the quality means that virtual teaching needs to have a sound learning design and pedagogical foundations. This is because, in a digital mode of instruction, only the medium or channel has changed. Virtual teaching is still a form of teaching that must have a learning process. It being such requires a learning design and pedagogy or the mechanism by which teaching is carried out. Learning design and pedagogy ensure that the teaching practice is in accord with the principles of teaching and learning, and would, therefore, warrant quality.
The Response that works: The virtual delivery in the program takes two modalities-synchronous and asynchronous. The schematic diagram, as shown below, shows the course delivery protocol for a two-session weekly cycle.
Figure 1: Course Delivery Protocol for a Two-Session Weekly Cycle Instructional Loop
To monitor students’ track, a series of guide questions would have to be asked to check students’ engagement in the instructional loop. The weekly cycle involves two pre-session, two live sessions, and an optional post-session. The pre-session is asynchronous since students learn at their own time and pace. On the other hand, the second session is synchronous since it is live and students learn together facilitated by the tutors, while the post-session is either synchronous or asynchronous. It can be synchronous when done together with the active support and guidance of the tutors. On the other hand, it can be asynchronous when done individually in isolation.
Sustaining the Response that works: There is an emerging need to revisit the modalities of the virtual delivery and evaluate if they followed an instructional design framework like that of Gagne’s model which is based on a social constructivist’s philosophy that learners build knowledge not just on meaningful learning activities/experience, but also on their interaction and collaboration with other learners.
For instance, as shown on the table below, for it to sustain the element of interaction in an asynchronous session, it should have at least four layers of learning events, as covered by the green arrow. This is also true for the synchronous session, it should have at least seven layers of learning events to sustain the elements of interaction, collaboration, and feedback, as covered by the green arrow on the table.
Figure 2: Learning Design and Elements of Pedagogy in Virtual Teaching Modes
Evidencing the Response that works: Embedding learning elements of pedagogy into the learning design of a virtual class has a number of empirical evidence that reports on its benefits. Pelz (2009) concludes in his study that these learning elements of pedagogy have strong positive linear correlation with students’ engagement. In the language of research, it describes the variables as “significantly related” with each other. Meaning, they move together or they synergize each other in a virtual learning environment. Hence, when the level of learning elements is high, the level of student engagement is also high.
In the Bahrain Polytechnic context, a formal parallel inquiry has yet to be undertaken. However, there are measurable indicators, though, that would initially point out to a positive impact of this virtual teaching practice. For example, students’ digital footprint on Moodle, BBB, and OneDrive would suggest a high level of engagement with the task, with content and with other learners. Further, the results of formative and summative assessments indicating significant improvement in the pass rate implies a positive impact. These, of course, cannot be verified unless statistically tested and proven that there is indeed a positive correlation.
Conclusion: It cannot be argued that we are currently navigating through unfamiliar terrain, but this does not mean that we are on a “dead end” road-like there is nowhere to go. On the contrary, we are not. We are constantly moving on a vast open unexplored field full of untapped opportunities for both teaching and learning.
However, the challenge remains. This is the challenge of navigation or moving in the right direction in order to arrive at our intended destination. The destination where the learning outcomes of our courses are achieved successfully. And this is where the right learning design and pedagogy will help us, tutors, through- as a navigational tool or as a compass in this journey.
- Gagne R, Briggs L, Wager W, editors. 3rd edition (1998). Principles of instructional design. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
- M. G. Moore (1989) “Editorial: Three types of interaction,” American Journal of Distance Education, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 1–7.