The warmth of a human

The warmth of a human - Rebecca Reynolds blog

The director of a London tutoring agency tells me that it does not provide Skype teaching. ‘We offer the warmth of a human, sitting beside a pupil to learn’, she says.

To her, Skype lessons are second best and here she suggests two things they are not as good at.

Firstly, giving emotional support and encouragement. Secondly, being in the same place as the learner – sitting beside them.

Is this so?

Online teachers commonly say that there is no difference between real and virtual lessons, but literally speaking this cannot be true -when someone is next to you, you are not seeing them on a screen. And if they were the same, we would no longer go to live concerts if they were on TV and no longer have face-to-face meetings when we could have a conference call. And few of us would say that speaking to a friend or family member on Skype is as good as being with them.

Perhaps we mean that the most important aspects of teaching and learning can happen just as well on Skype – imparting knowledge, structuring lessons in stages, providing support and encouragement, monitoring the student’s progress and so on.

We also know that being in a different physical space can actually be an advantage. For example, students can be taught by teachers in other countries. A Saudi student mentioned this to me a few weeks ago, saying that piano teaching was not a strong tradition in her country and she wanted a British music teacher.

My own view is that online and face-to-face teaching and learning are not exactly the same but can co-exist as part of the range of methods which teachers and learners have available to them. More widely, they are part of the same rich environment in which we are learning throughout our lives.

Returning to the agency director’s comment though, it was interesting that she mentioned ‘the warmth of a human’ first. Emotional aspects of teaching, such as enthusiasm for your subject, are very important to students. For example, one of the most common positive comments we had from international students at the University of Hertfordshire was that the teacher was ‘kind’. Yet the importance of kindness does not feature prominently on teacher training courses, in my experience.

Affective aspects of teaching and learning (i.e. relating to feelings and attitudes) do figure in pedagogical theory such as Bloom’s taxonomy of learning (mentioned in a previous post) and Krashen’s theory of second language acquisition, which posits an ‘affective filter’. This is something I would like to explore more, and will do so in my next post.

August 19, 2015