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Online vs face-to-face teaching & learning: teaching during COVID-19

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

14 July 2020

di Antonella Beconi*

Does remote learning facilitate learning?

I work as a tutor for Italian at the

Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Sydney. Semester 1 of 2020 started as a usual semester. In Mid-March, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, all the teaching was moved online through the software Zoom.

Undeniably, the virtual learning environment gives access to progress with the learning experience to remote students there are some challenges.

The problems we faced during the semester were already underlined from other scholars of online and distance learning. Firstly, teachers and students need to possess the necessary hardware, software, a very good internet connection and a peaceful place where to use it.

We have all experienced internet connection issues; the dark squares of the turned-off cameras and pets, or family interruptions during our zoom meetings. Not to mention the ability of the students dealing with the

specific technical competence required. Therefore, as Smith & Ayers noticed in 2006, sometimes remote learning may hinder rather than enhance learning and understanding (Smith & Ayers, 2006).

Which language skills improved most?

The lack of Kinetic features like face and body language was substituted by the use of the chat, the whiteboard and PowerPoints, which are all written and grammatic-based tools. The use of these thus brings us to the same conclusion of Fredrickson & Oliveira (2019) who conducted an American study among ESL students. The study reveals that online learning experiences have a positive effect on English reading and writing skills. But in contrast, English listening and speaking skills didn’t improve as much.

Is a face-to-face good teacher also a good online teacher?

It is a common myth assuming that a face-to-face good teacher can easily become a good online teacher (Davis & Rose, 2007).

Already in 2009 researchers found out the teaching skills and approaches needed in distant learning are different from those used in a face-to-face course (Compton, 2009). Every teacher and tutor experienced what Eas

ton in 2003 claimed: in addition to the usual skills requested for an effective face-to-face teaching an online teacher needs to have virtual management techniques, skills to engage students through virtual communication and a paradigm shift in perceptions of instructional time and space (Easton, 2003).

This shift in perceptions means the class time is no longer scheduled in a precise moment but instead distributed over the entire week if you include all the preparation work behind it. In fact, it became a necessity for both students and teachers to check email messages or websites daily and we perceived the amount of work as increasingly out of proportion.

Which skills are required for online tutoring?

Most importantly, the online teacher needs community-building skills to encourage socialisation, participation and collaboration; activities that are crucial for a positive remote learning experience (Hampel & Stickler, 2005; Jones & Youngs, 2006). The online teacher needs to build a group rapport so the learning environment feels less distant.

Hampel & Stickler theorize a pyramid of skills required for online tutoring. On the first three levels, there are the basic skills, which are of course the competence in the use of computers and the software.

But, on the fourth level of required skills, we find online socialization. Indeed, for high-quality online interaction, we need to establish a sense of community and trust (Salmon, 2003).

The fifth level of skills requires the online teacher to be an effective facilitator of communicative competence. This skill builds upon the successful socialisation of students and the promotion of social cohesion: interaction between participants is crucial and can be achieved in an online course thro

ugh task design.

Creativity and choice are the sixth level of skills since ‘searching, evaluating and repurposing of materials’ are important web literacy skills.

The seventh and highest level of skills for online language teaching is the ability to develop a ‘personal teaching style, using the media and materials to their best advantage, to form a rapport with the students and use the resources creatively for an active and communicative language learning.

While technical and software specific skills are easy to learn, other skills, such as facilitating online socialising and community building, can be more challenging. Nonetheless, these skills are essential in order to promote social cohesion that is necessary for meaningful communicative interaction (Compton, 2009).

Without a creative teacher, t

he Internet can at best function as a convenient materials resource and communication vehicle (Felix, 2003).

What will be the future of teaching after COVID-19?

Connectedness; Rapport building; Belongingness and a positive non-threatening atmosphere are all crucial features for a positive and constructive teaching for both methods: face-to-face as well as online learning. Even if in the latter, skills differ.

“Even though future teachers will most certainly not be replaced by computers, computer-using language teachers will replace those teachers who do not use computers” (Hegelheimer, 2006, p. 117).


Compton, L. K. L. (2009). Preparing language teachers to teach language online: A look at skills, roles, and responsibilities. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 22(1), 73-99.
Davis, N., & Rose, R. (2007). Research Committee Issues Brief: Professional Development for Virtual Schooling and Online Learning. North American Council for Online Learning.
Easton, S. S. (2003). Clarifying the instructor’s role in online distance learning. Communication Education, 52(2), 87-105.
Felix, U. (2003). Teaching languages online: Deconstructing the myths. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 19(1).
Fredriksson, A., & Oliveira,

G. M. d. (2019). Impact evaluation using Difference-in-Differences. RAUSP Management Journal, 54(4), 519-532.

Hampel, R., & Stickler, U. (2005). New skills for new classrooms: Training tutors to teach languages online. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 18(4), 311-326.
Hegelheimer, V. (2006). When the technology course is required. Teacher education in CALL, 117-133.
Jones, C. M., & Youngs, B. L

. (2006). Teacher preparation for online language instruction. Teacher education in CALL, 267-280.

Salmon, G. (2003). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online: Psychology Press.

Smith, D. R., & Ayers, D. F. (2006). Culturally responsive pedagogy and online learning: Implications for the globalized community college. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 30(5-6), 401-415.

*Antonella Beconi è tutor, CCE Convenor for Italian courses, e PhD candidate presso il Department of Italian Studies, University of Sydney. E’ membro del comitato della Dante Alighieri Society Sydney

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