A high school maths teacher in Australia who recently visited China has found a novel way to keep his students engaged while he sits in self-imposed quarantine over concerns that he visited a country with high concentrations of the new coronavirus. He’s conducting his class through videochat while sitting 8 kilometres away in his own home.
The teacher, Victor Sun, told Australia’s ABC News that he was recently visiting family in Shanghai for the Lunar New Year and got back to Darwin, Australia on Friday. The Australian government has set up quarantine areas for people being evacuated from Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, but people coming from other parts of China have been advised to self-quarantine for 14 days.
“Overall I think it’s going well, so far, with their behaviour,” Sun told ABC News, remarking on the students he’s overseeing. “My students are still interacting and engaging with the virtual classroom.”
The younger students seem to be the most engaged with the new set-up, according to Sun, while older students don’t really care about the tech side of things and want to simply get their work done.
“We don’t want students to fall behind,” Sun said while adding that kids in 11th and 12th grades have some big standardised tests coming up.
Sun’s school, St. John’s Catholic College, is using a laptop, a $200 webcam and an account with Zoom video conferencing. The class also has a microphone that can be passed around the room for kids to ask questions, showing just how simple it can be to set up what’s called “distance learning” here in the year 2020—something that has been a dream of the future for almost 100 years.
The coronavirus has killed at least 565 people and sickened over 28,000 more, leading to a low-level panic around the globe that this new disease could kill thousands if left unchecked. But people are adjusting and employing technology wherever they can to make sure that infection from the new coronavirus remains rare, relatively speaking.
And educators in China, at the centre of the epidemic, are increasingly turning to technological solutions so that students don’t fall behind. Over 50 million people are on lockdown, the largest public health quarantine in history, and in-person classes have been delayed in many parts of the country.
Many teachers in China explain that they have no other choice but to teach online, given the new reality. And if the new coronavirus continues to spread, other countries around the world should be getting prepared.
High-tech learning from anywhere has been the dream of tomorrow for more than a century, with radio of the 1920s, TVs of the 1930s, computerised desks of the 1950s, gigantic home screens of the 1960s, robot teachers of the 1970s, videophones of the 1980s, and internet-connected classroom of the 1990s.
But the kind of distance learning that we’re seeing in Australia could quickly become the norm everywhere around the globe if public health authorities don’t get this virus under control.