Remote teaching - one week update

Man with headphones on works on a computer

It has been approximately a week since Auckland, New Zealand went back into Level 3 lock-down over the Covid-19 pandemic. Since Thursday last week I have been teaching my students remotely through live conferencing software such as Microsoft Teams in place of physical lessons. This is my first time teaching remotely, and there are a few things that have arised which I didn’t expect.

I (foolishly) assumed that most of my students had some grasp of how to navigate different systems and services. Given that they are young and part of what is considered Generation Z, I thought that nearly all of them would have at least some level of digital literacy (and if not that they knew where to look). However, this stint in remote teaching has highlighted to me just how wrong I was - there is a vast difference in abilities around using computers among my students, right down to the most basic and fundamental functions like copy and paste.

Most of my time online since starting remote teaching has been spent troubleshooting and diagnosing issues raised by students. I was wary that not every student would have a stable Internet connection before I started my teaching programme, so I tried my best in implementing lessons that were both low bandwidth intensive and not reliant on powerful hardware (since not everyone had access to a decent computer - for some a smartphone is their primary computing device). In hindsight, I should have thought even further back and thought of those students who have almost no idea of basic computing concepts, doing everything to stamp out any potential dark patterns so that I don’t need to retrofit fixes later down the line.

One of the primary issues my students have experienced is signing up for accounts on certain services. Since most sign ups are handled via email it requires for the user/student to have some understanding of how this works - the confirmation of verification links, checking in spam for missed messages and so on. Some of these students know how to install and use a VPN on their phone, yet are completely stumped when it comes to using email. Why is this the case?

I think part of the issue is because of the smartphone app paradigm. If every function and service is reduced to an app, it is segmented as a little icon on your screen and often abstracts any logging in or processes to a black box. These dark patterns, a commonplace in everyday apps today, are harmful to the user in that it oversimplifies systems to the point where everything is done automatically. Confronted with a system that doesn’t fall into this paradigm, it is no wonder that the user would find it confusing or bewildering.

If one of my students wishes to use a smartphone app to complete the same work I have no issue with this. I believe this is a level of flexibility I should consider under UDL. In the future, I will consider a Plan A, B, C, and D, because technology is far from perfect. Nothing that I have done so far has gone according to plan, and almost always the reason is down to technology. It is frustrating, but the best thing that I can do is always have a wide spread of options incase things don’t work out.

Small steps…

May doorbell lights find you in the night

T.