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A Belgian Professor Grades Remote Learning: C+

The pandemic closed classrooms and pushed the education process online. It was a desperate measure for desperate times that avoided the worst, but shouldn't be the norm.

University students during an examination in Brussels
University students during an examination in Brussels
Sophie Logjes*


Thanks to the current technological tools available (platforms, webinars, online multiple choice tests, video conferences, etc.), distance learning isn't really a problem. Or so I've heard. They say that whatever teachers tell their pupils in a face-to-face situation can be conveyed remotely as well.

But before reading on, I invite you to revisit your own school days and think about your teachers and professors. Who do you remember? And what memories are associated with these teachers? Take two minutes to think about that.

Now, do you still agree that teaching can easily be done remotely? If your answer is "yes," then I feel sorry for you. You probably didn't have many cool teachers. Personally, when I think about my teachers, from primary school to university, my memories recall people like:

- The one who made me feel good at school because I was greeted with a smile and kind words, and who made me feel I was important to her.

- The one who helped me fit in by encouraging contacts between me and other girls.

- Those who made me want to go to school because I knew we were going to learn and work, of course, but also laugh and sing sometimes.

- The ones who gave me the energy to get up in the morning to go to the auditorium because they gave fascinating classes filled with examples, anecdotes, reactions to students' questions, pirouettes to get back on their feet when the discussion was going in all directions, and so on.

It denies the very nature of the teaching profession.

- The one who made me want to become a teacher one day too, and to make it, as he did, a profession of humanity and benevolence

- I also think of all those times when the professor could "feel" that the students were paying less attention, and was able to bounce back by changing his teaching method, by offering a break, by asking us questions ... or by getting downright angry.

I learned a lot in school. And of course, I remember some of it but have also forgotten a lot. Some of the things I learned in books are useful to me today, others not so much.

But the lessons that were most valuable, that I apply on an everyday basis, are the ones I learned "off" the blackboard: How to fit in a group, obey, conform, and sometimes rebel. How to make friends, argue with them, find solutions to resolve our conflicts. How to explain myself, say what I think (or not). How to choose my path by drawing inspiration from models around me, by taking an example ... or a counter-example.

Distance teaching must be an educational choice — Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga/ZUMA

"Bookish" learning was only possible for me because it was accompanied by a parallel education that was both human and social. Had I only been presented with the books and the theories, I would have quickly given up.

If we think that the teaching profession is limited to transmitting to students the content of a subject, then yes, in this case, the face-to-face class no longer makes much sense and could be replaced (completely or partly) by an online lesson. And for some of the teachers I had growing up — people who knew their subject matter but had no real skills for sharing that information — it maybe wouldn't have made much difference.

Needless to say, I don't remember a lot from those classes. Fortunately, such teachers were a minority in my school career.

The flip side, of course, is that good teachers can do good work remotely. Distance learning tools are great, and if used well, they offer tremendous support for education. They allow you to vary methods, grab the attention of students, and bring complicated material to life. But they remain tools that must be at the service of education and not the other way around.

In March 2020, Belgian authorities chose to close schools, Haute écoles (higher education institutions) and universities. Nevertheless, we, teachers, were called to maintain educational continuity as best as we could. And we did everything in our power to do so. But as schools restart around the world, this should not become the norm.

As soon as possible, professors should have the right to choose whether they wish to teach remotely and/or face-to-face. It must be an educational choice: For a teacher, complementing his or her range of teaching tools with distance learning tools is one thing and, for some courses, it is great.

But some courses are not suitable for this at all in Haute école. Think of music education, athletics, arts, professional training workshops, first aid, ergonomics … Distance teaching must be an educational choice and not one related to health or economics.

Claiming that students can learn everything online through technological tools and making distance learning the norm denies the very nature of the teaching profession. It also means denying all the things that school teaches us — everything that sits outside the curriculum and that can only be learned through teacher-student and student-student interactions.

*Sophie Logjes is a professor in a Haute École in Belgium.

**This article was translated with permission from the author.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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