“Webinar” is a horrible word, it’s the term for an online seminar, which is hopefully a much more interactive activity than those I have experienced thus far. Following a sixteen week online mathematics course has meant a once monthly webinar to look at particular aspects of the course. An image of the screen of the seminar leader’s laptop fills the screens of those participating, the only sound heard is that of the presenter, all other microphones are muted. There is opportunity to submit written comments, but these are not seen by anyone other than the presenter whose spoken responses seem cryptic to those who may have little idea of the nature of the question.
Last month, the webinar was on an area of maths barely remembered from schooldays, and rather than address the subject, the presenter seemed content with setting questions and then commenting on answers received via the text boxes. Someone called “Celine” seemed to have all the questions in each section answered before I had managed to work out the meaning of the first. Once a couple of responses had been received, the presenter moved on to the next section. After this had happened a couple of times, I gave up on attempts at answers as the speed at which the seminar moved gave little opportunity for learning.
The point was reached where I wondered if it was worth the effort required to continue paying attention. A sketch from Not the Nine O’Clock News came to mind, one where a sleepy Open University student rises in the early morning to watch the television broadcast of a lecture and begins to doze off on a settee, only for the lecturer to speak at him directly from the television. Perhaps if I was not ready to click on a “raised hand” icon at the corner of the computer monitor, the presenter would know I was not paying attention.
The nephews this evening told of a French lesson at school today, questions were asked and those who answered first were called to the front to answer further questions. The nephews gave the impression that they had quickly lost interest in the lesson. I might have told them that I knew how it felt to have lost the thread of what was being taught.
A culture of tests and targets seems appropriate for the able Celines and Francophones, but not so suited to those of us who struggle. Losing touch with us can make us inclined to disengage altogether from the process of learning. The webinar compelled me to search elsewhere for the material, one cannot teach what one doesn’t understand, but schools teaching bad lessons seems to conflict with the very task of education for which they are responsible.