ARCHITELAGO. When I first thought of giving a name to this blog, I thought of the intended audience’s statistics: advocates of teaching and learning through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). From business and the academe. From the Philippines and around the world. Someone, perhaps, like me, from a Pinoy living in Singapore, eager to connect with her kababayan e-learning practitioners around the world.
With Architelago, I hope I’ve defined a piece of virtual real estate for the Philippines. It’s for those who’d like to share their online teaching and learning experiences, way past their administrations, schools, institutions, past geographical borders. That is, if the Internet has reached them; if not, maybe they had e-learning through the boob tube or via radio.
Maybe someone will reply via e-mail or SMS and give them a virtual pat for braving the unknown world of online learning. Ask them pointed questions. About practice and experience. About how they initiated e-learning at grassroots level, where there is 1 computer to every .5 baranggay. Or how teachers felt about having computers as teacher’s assistants, not teaching aids, in the classroom.
As trailing spouse to a peripatetic husband, I’ve found the next best thing to working in Singapore is to be stuyding in Singapore. It has been a struggle, but a productive struggle. It is possible to get a post-graduate degree via the Internet, without having to sit in class.
I said it was about time to develop a new skill set. So thinking it was innovative to combine my previous sales and marketing experience with a curiosity for all things IT, I started my online Masters in E-learning from Sheffield University
in the UK 2 years ago.
I’ve been attending my virtual classes in WebCT
eversince, right out of my tiny desk in this Garden Island. Thank goodness Singapore is 100% connected, and broadband Internet is cheap. Otherwise, I’d be paying a fortune just to discuss a project with my set mates; a 5-minute conversation, face-to-face, can stretch to 30 minutes online. So imagine a regular 2 hour meeting using a chat interface. It gets to be a challenge and a pleasure to process online conversations, especially when your set mates are all female. It’s true: women are as chatty online as they are off. Doesn’t matter what nationality.
My decision to take online classes was met with some surprise, then skepticism, then incredulity by friends. Mostly other trailing spouses who made a wise decision to lead productive but more relaxed lives, playing badminton while I slaved it over a hot computer.
So the usual reasons for e-learning were in my list: desire for flexibility of time; flexibility of pace. I gave priority to family. Flexibility–no need to dress up for classes. But as I soon learned from my British, Maltese, and now Egyptian-American classmates–be ready be speak up. You need to collaborate, cooperate, elucidate, defend your opinion (and research) to death. Otherwise, you shrink in anonymity; well, I did at one time. I told them that as an Asian I don’t like confrontations, even virtual ones.
And if you’re using the Internet now for teaching, try switching places with your students. Whether thru chat or the message boards of WebCt or Blackboard, you need to be good in typing at warp speed. And not to get text-tied or fumble-fingered, lest you accidentally push the “Enter” key. And you’d be met with a string of ????? or white space.
After engaging in collaborative-cooperative activities for the last 2 years at Sheffield, and thus forcing me be critical of our learning community’s work (and to a certain extent, more careful with one’s English vocabulary!) , I can understand now how idealized online learning has been. There are definitely a good number of benefits for choosing to study online. Studying anytime, anyplace allows one to have work-life balance while pursuing additional professional certifications. Personally, the discussions I’ve had with students from different institutions and cultures force me to question how I am doing teaching and learning in my own context, in my own culture. How I continue to learn from professionals, even if I have decided to leave the corporate world for a while.
You can be more culturally sensitive to syntax or silences in the online environment, perhaps more sensitive than you would be in mono-cultural environment.
One can truly learn with a global perspective (and to some extent, you can adopt your UK classmate’s grammar after reading pages of messages). But you long for that human touch and see human faces rather than the smiley icons. Virtuality extends the social life of men, but there’s nothing like bumping into your colleague in front of the watercooler and trading the stories of the day.
So who says we can’t have the best of both worlds?