By Louie B. Dasas
The COVID-19 pandemic challenges schools to deliver classroom instruction remotely. This is challenging because students and teachers do not have equal access to technologies and stable Internet connection.
Despite the overwhelming “digital divide,” schools are told education must continue. This led to schools’ learning continuity plans incorporating teachers’ retooling and reskilling through online professional development seminars a.k.a. webinars.
Since May, professional organizations, publishing houses, and the Department of Education have begun staging free, daily webinars for Filipino teachers using web-conferencing applications and Facebook Live.
So, why the webinar craze? Webinars suit the current conditions of the pandemic. They offer flexibility and sustained availability because sessions are accessible anywhere and recordings can be replayed on-demand.
Webinars are also a cost-effective way for schools to do teacher-training since they do not involve added expenses for logistic, speakers’ honoraria, venue rentals, participants’ food, and printing of certificates.
What motivates Filipino teachers to attend webinars? First, they are free, and second, they give a “Certificate of Participation.”
Webinars democratized professional development by abolishing expensive seminar fees and limited access to training by experts. Webinars also became a fast, cost-effective way to earn promotion and ranking “points.” To obtain a certificate, participants must get a 70 percent score from a check-up quiz, prepare a 200-word reflection, or accomplish an evaluation.
Earning numerous certificates also comes with bragging rights as teachers proudly post their “achievements” on social media.
But, why do teachers attend so many webinars? Work-from-home arrangements of some schools oblige teachers to attend them as part of their daily “work plan.” Webinar certificates serve as teachers’ daily output or accomplishment. This gave birth to the “death by webinar” phenomenon.
Teachers scour the Internet for webinars to fill their daily work plans, disregarding the relevance of the online seminar to their actual teaching practice. I recently learned about a group of Science teachers who attended webinars on public administration, forensic linguistics, and economics.
For some teachers, attending webinars meant compliance rather than professional development. Webinars issuing certificates are well-received and well-attended compared to those that do not.
With this, I ask: What happens to teachers without Internet connection? How will they receive appropriate trainings? If teachers cannot attend webinars, will they be penalized? On what grounds? Lack of Internet access?
Webinars also exposed the “expertise divide.” Webinar posters banner titles such as “PhD” or “MSc.” I remember Leloy Claudio’s argument about absurd boasting of academic and professional titles.
The Filipino webinar culture exposed the divide between academics with titles and those with none. However, does a PhD always mean an expert? I recently attended a webinar delivered by an “LPT, PhD” which ended up being a reading session of slides with no indication of expertise whatsoever.
The “expertise divide” marginalizes experienced classroom teachers who have so much to share but do not qualify as “experts” because of lacking degrees or titles. What’s more troubling is that some “PhDs,” despite the absence of necessary academic/professional training, boast themselves as “experts” delivering sporadic lectures about topics they do not fully understand. This leads to another divide—the “knowledge divide.”
The proliferation of webinars makes me reflect on several questions: To what extent will teachers use the insights they learned from attending webinars to their actual teaching? Are teachers given opportunities to apply what they learned in practice? Are webinars the “new” teaching reality?
I argue webinars are different from teaching such that teaching, whether done in the classroom or online, demands student-teacher interaction. Teaching is not simply telling. It requires knowledge construction and deconstruction, a process shared by teachers and students. If teachers see webinars as gold standard for teaching online, I am certain teachers will fall into the trap of having students who are disengaged “Zoom-bies.”
Undeniably, webinars made learning more accessible for teachers but they also created “divides” and perpetuated a culture of compliance. Webinars for compliance’s sake is both unhealthy and unproductive. Teachers must reflect on the insights gained from attending these events. Teachers must be given sufficient time to translate “webinar learnings” into teaching materials and learning plans for their students.
In as much as webinars are convenient ways for schools to prepare their teachers for the “new normal,” measures must be undertaken to prevent teachers’ “death by webinars.”
The sustained challenge of remote teaching and learning in a time of pandemic calls for creating communities of practice and communities of inquiry, allowing teachers to discern meaningful ways to make students learn best despite the limitations.
After all, the heart of teaching is student learning.
The author holds a doctorate in Curriculum Studies and teaches at the University of Santo Tomas. He is the husband of a lovely public teacher and a father to two wonderful kids.
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