Paulo Vasconcellos, in charge of the pedagogical support in Wormhole and, besides, Portuguese teacher in the company. We have asked him about his opinion on the importance of the instructor's role in virtual training, and here are his answers:
I'm Brazilian and I was born in São Paulo. I come from a big family with a Calvinist missionary tradition. As a result of that, I was in touch with cultures very different from mine and, probably, my interest in the language learning process comes from there. I think that I am more interested in the learning process rather than the teaching process in itself. I believe that all teachers should take into consideration "how language is learned" instead of "how language is taught". I think that we constantly learn how to teach when we are open to get to know how students learn. From my point of view, this is the key to teaching because each person has a different way of thinking.
In Brazil, I studied and worked at the University of São Paulo. I got a degree in Literature and Arts with qualifications in English and Portuguese. There, I worked as an English teacher for students and employees of the university. At the same time, I was working in a primary school teaching Portuguese lessons. I have been living in Argentina for three years now and it's been a very interesting experience. Here, I work as a teacher of Portuguese as a foreign language, and giving pedagogical support in Wormhole. I have always been interested in the use of technology in education and I have learned a lot working in such a well-known company in the field.
It is very difficult to give a definition, since nowadays there are many different types of virtual education. The word "virtual" means "almost" or "something that does not exist as reality". I believe that, in that sense, the word has been used by those who believe that reality only takes place when there is physical contact with the "other". My idea as an educator is that education needs to be "real" for those who are learning. This "reality" goes beyond the on-site or virtual methodology.
If I need to give a definition, I think that virtual education is a type of complementary education, which helps in the learning process, but does not allow for it completely. I believe that the ideal thing is to use it as blended learning. Blended learning is just what we have been doing so far. We had classes at school and homework at home. With current technology, through Live Learning, it is the same, but more efficiently and completely.
For those who live in places with little access to education, virtual education is an excellent resource if there is direct and live contact with the tutor. All the content of the world can be nowadays coded and it is available on the web. We have more access to everything and we can save time and money with virtual classes. Teachers can also devote more time to their students, giving online support for their homework outside the classes. If online classes are live, keeping the students' attendance towards the end of the course is more likely.
The disadvantage is that there are many people who don't use this technology properly. We are talking about a resource which works through a computer or mobile device, which makes it very difficult to attract the students' attention. These devices are a constant challenge for extended attention since they have been manufactured to generate a constant interruption. How many tabs are opened while you watch a video? How many times have you left a website to answer a Facebook message and after that, you couldn't remember what you were doing? It is an addictive impulse, because we feel like doing everything at the same time on the Internet. However, it has been proven that our brain is not capable of doing many things at the same time.
Attention is an essential element in the learning process and the acquisition of concepts. It is true that, in part, teachers are responsible for getting the students' attention, but this turns out to be really difficult with so many elements against. Have you ever tried to speak while an ambulance is passing by? Now, imagine that the ambulance makes its way every 5 minutes. It is one of the biggest challenges for virtual education.
For this reason, I think that amidst all the virtual training methodologies, Live Learning is the well-developed one, because it enables the instructor to generate a live stronger link with students and to guide them to a better performance.
It is very similar to the one present in on-site environments. The instructor has to generate empathy with the participants of their classes, have an interest in their preferences and difficulties, provide them with a means to discover the best method to study and learn.
I remember that as a child, I used to get terrible math grades, I hated that subject. When I started high school, the new teacher not only tried to understand my problems, but he was also interested in getting to know me better and the things that I liked. He began to relate math to philosophy. Since then, my grades and my interest in math really improved.
Today, the importance of empathy and interpersonal relations is more discussed when talking about meaningful learning, but I believe that they are the essential and irreplaceable ingredients of what we call "motivation". Again, the environment of live virtual education is more efficient than traditional e-learning in that sense.
I think that education is a necessary social process, which is generated in the relation between the person and the sociocultural environment in which they live, which means, between instructors and participants, other participants of the classes, the family, co-workers. However, it is also clear that the acquisition of contents and creativity appears in the most introspective moments of solitude and reflection. During those moments, technology is essential. And by technology I mean books, Internet, videos, computers, tablets, etc. Each piece of technology plays its role in learning when used correctly.