Distance Teaching - More Than an Emergency Solution
The pupils arrive at the school, turn on a camera and smartboard in the classroom and greet their teacher, who perhaps is in another classroom several hundred kilometers away.
The teacher runs through the day’s tasks, shares documents electronically and watches, via the monitor, that the pupils are paying attention, doing the assignments and are asking questions. During the whole time, there is a visual contact between teacher and pupils, and the teacher is able to monitor if conflicts arise.
Completely classical teacher-centred teaching from the blackboard, albeit with a physical distance. This is how distance teaching has been tested and used for years in Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq.
Distance teaching is regarded as an emergency solution and a substitute that can be the alternative to school closures, for example in villages without trained teachers. This is how it has been in the Settlement Kapisillit, around 75 km from Nuuk, where the few pupils have been taught by teachers who physically are on one of Nuuk’s town schools. Anders Øgaard is a lecturer at the teacher training programme, which is part of the Institute of Learning at Ilisimatusarfik. He has been following a project in Kapisillit in connection to his PhD about distance teaching, and is in no doubt that it is a success in relation to securing quality teaching for the children in the settlement.
“It works well, the technology is well tested, there is a good internet connection and the alternative would be that these children would have either to leave home very early, or be taught by their parents at home”, he says.
Øgaard highly acknowledges distance teaching as a method to secure teaching by trained teachers for Greenlandic pupils in many Settlements. However, he has also been engaged in viewing the method of distance learning as more than just an emergency solution.
“I think it’s interesting to view distance teaching as a pedagogical potential. This way of working may trigger completely new ways of thinking about pedagogy and didactics, which may be much more progressive”.
He defended his PhD in January 2016, in which he focused on distance teaching as a way of new thinking. He has been following a distance teaching project in Denmark, for example, where pupils across three schools were tasked with a common project in their English class.
The pupils were divided into groups across the schools and each group was asked to create a fictitious club. The pupils were describing the club’s activities, among other things, through telephone and Skype meetings, file sharing on shared drives, etc.
“The class contained a high level of written work, which gave the teachers a good impression of the pupils’ proficiency, and it was a good exercise for the pupils. In return, it also gave them more individual freedom to choose when to work during the day than is usually the case. The pupils were given more freedom and more responsibility”, explains Anders Øgaard.
He tried himself to carry out a similar project on a smaller scale in Southern Greenland, in collaboration with local teachers at three Settlement schools. That project, however, was made difficult by, in particular, a very bad internet connection.
“It’s vital to have a fast enough internet connection. Moreover, it’s not enough that the pupils have internet access at school, there has to be a scheme with free or cheap connections to their homes as well. That way you are also able to continue with teaching, even if the school has to be closed due to a snowstorm. Nevertheless, in many places today, internet connection in settlement and remote districts is so expensive that it’s in fact an economic problem for the parents if the children have to watch YouTube videos, etc., in connection with the classes. Free or cheap internet for all schoolchildren will clearly provide some fantastic pedagogical development opportunities, and it’s a necessity to make distance teaching work”, argues Øgaard, and finishes:
“I have no doubt whatsoever that distance teaching makes sense in Greenland, where it’s difficult to find trained teachers for all schools. But if used the correct pedagogical way, I’m convinced that it will create opportunities, more than traditional teaching, to live up to the intentions in school to work towards more independent and critically thinking pupils, because the form hands more responsibility for actively participating over to the pupils”.
- Text Pia C. Bang / Apropos and photographer Ulrik Bang