Educator Jiří Valdhans: It Would Be a Shame to Abandon Online Technology after Returning to the Classrooms

Although live teaching in the lecture halls is difficult to replace, some educators would retain digital tools and applications, such as MS Teams, in their lessons even after returning to "normal" teaching. One of them is Jiří Valdhans, associate professor from the Department of International and European Law at LAW MUNI, who shared his thoughts on the use of online technologies in teaching.

21 Apr 2021 Filip Opálka

Have you used online technology in your teaching before? How was your first encounter with online technology?

The usage of IS and curricula was considered standard even before the covid, but it seemed not enough. But I admit that I did not have a proper idea of what can be digitized in teaching and how. At the same time, I felt that I did not want to teach as I did 20 years ago.

During my studies at the turn of the millennium, there were only three or four of us in the class who had a laptop. Before the covid, 90–100% of students in the seminar had a laptop or tablet. I like modern technologies, so I started thinking about using them and bringing teaching closer to students.

A friend from Microsoft showed me a video from the University of Australia, which all is possible by MS Teams and other applications. I was fascinated by technologies, and then we started to think about how to use them for teaching and our university. Together with ICS, we have devised a pilot project for the spring semester 2020 using MS Teams in seminars. However, due to the covid, the project became useless because almost everyone started to use MS Teams.

Have you encountered problems within your colleagues with the use of IT technologies in teaching? Or even reluctantly to use them?

Yes, I did, even with people of my generation. For example, the reaction to streaming lessons was that the educator is not curious to lecture via the camera to students lying in bed, have a computer on their knees, and drink beer. I say to myself that if a student attends my seminar in bed, with a laptop and a beer (while he is ready), I consider it my success, not a loss.

A few weeks later, when a student appeared on one of the cameras in bed, on his knees with a laptop, a drink in his hand, and a cigar next to him, I had to work hard not to start laughing (not to the student). Talking parrots, cats enjoying cuddling with their owner, or flashing red horns are more of a pleasant diversion than a distraction.

„As educators, we need to get closer to students and use communication mechanisms close to them. And it will allow us to pass on the information we want.“

Again, it was noted during one MS Teams training that the training is great, but hopefully, we will not need it soon. On the contrary, I hope that much of the use of online technologies will remain in teaching. Streaming and recording lectures have been discussed for several years - opinions are again rather negative. I don't mind. Moreover, the students record us during the classes anyway.

So go to meet student's needs or force them our solutions?

Every teacher has opinions; I think that the pedagogical process must "move with the times". Digitization is pushing into every aspect of our lives. Do we have to convince students that it would be different at university? Do we want them to read paper books and take notes by hand? We would only move further and further away from the students.

What do you consider to be the main benefits of involving online tools in teaching?

MS Teams is now replacing my classroom, lecturing and teaching seminars via a camera. At the same time, it is another communication channel that allows online interaction with students. In the discussion threads, you can discuss things that do not fit into the seminar or that need to be explained.

When you are with students in the classroom, there is still sometimes unnecessary respect from the teacher, a certain reluctance or fear to discuss more. As an advantage, I perceive that in the online environment, student reticence is declining, and they have a greater desire to ask questions and discuss.

My overall impression of online teaching is entirely positive. I record my lectures, and the recording is then available to students. At our faculty, we work with knowledge and texts, so in my opinion, teaching is well transferable to the online environment. But it needs equipment. Only a laptop or computer with one monitor is enough for a lecture. But the seminar already requires an external monitor and ideally a tablet or writing surface instead of a whiteboard, plus a good camera and microphone.

What is your opinion on the involvement of online tools and applications in teaching even after the students return to the lecture halls and rooms?

It will be a great pity if we abandon the online technologies we have now started to use. I am definitely in favor of streaming lectures in MS Teams, recording them, and having them available to students. I also expect further use of MS Teams for seminar teaching - it will no longer be a necessary replacement for the classroom, but everything else we use now may remain.

I can imagine streaming seminars, a combination of a teacher and part of the students in the classroom and part of the students online - and I'm talking about the full-time study. I see an even more significant opportunity in online teaching in combined studies. Besides, IT technologies can significantly facilitate international cooperation, both in implementing research projects and at various summer schools or similar intensive courses.

How best to involve students in the interaction between you in online teaching?

Many colleagues or students may not agree with me here - in my compulsory subjects, in my opinion, it is primarily the student who should know why he or she is studying and should want to participate in teaching. During the lecture, it is me who should attract the student, draw him through the topic and questions. But during the seminar, I see my role in moderating the discussion of prepared students.

The university is discussing whether the student should have the camera turned on during online teaching. It is useless during the lectures - there the teacher has to "entertain" the students. But during the seminars, I find it strange to look at the rectangles with initials for 100 minutes. I understand a situation where a student has, e.g., bad connection, etc., we were always able to solve them. But cameras are a thing where even students should perceive teaching as a two-way process. Because we are expecting the camera to be turned on...

„​During the lecture, it is me who should attract the student, draw him through the topic and questions. But during the seminar, I see my role in moderating the discussion of prepared students.“

Would you like to share tips about MS Teams and the way how you work with it? What other applications do you use?

Approximately 450–500 students take compulsory courses at our faculty. The seminar groups consist of about 20 students, so I teach several of the same seminars; that's why I create one team for students of all my seminar groups. The individual channels then copy the topics of the seminars. For one seminar, I use about three channels - in one of them, students have assignments for the seminar (channels 1st seminar - topic xy). I will then copy the theoretical questions from the assignment as separate contributions to this channel. Any student can then return to anything from the seminar and write their solution - and both me and possibly other students respond.

I copy the tasks and questions to them into a separate channel (channel 1. seminar - tasks). We place sample tasks for the exam (Exercise Clause 1, etc.) in other channels. The purpose of creating one team for students from all my seminar groups is to allow all students to respond to questions and share knowledge, not just students within one seminar group. As far as I know, then students use this during the preparation for the exam.

I don't use other Microsoft applications yet, but my colleagues and I plan another "shift" from next semester, so we plan to make more significant use of OneNote and other applications.

doc. JUDr. Jiří Valdhans, Ph.D.

Graduate of the master's field of Law and Legal Science and the doctoral field of Theoretical Legal Sciences, currently working at the Department of International and European Law, Faculty of Law. He is the author of many professional publications and textbooks and a specialist in private international law, international trade law, and arbitration.

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