Based on our experience in online learning for water resources based on open source that dates way before the Covid pandemia, we have seen some limitations of elearning as a framework to teach software for water resources.
Even though we can conceptualize elearning as something new, it is in fact a poor performance copy of the classroom environment on the computer. We simulate the whiteboard (we prefer chalkboard, less allergic), the teacher, the interventions, the assignments, the exams and everything else that is related to the normal classroom, even breaks and graduations. But this “Second Life” version of education has its limitations that have to be well assessed in order to define strategies to achieve the objective of education: bring new and better capabilities to water resources professionals.
We won’t support the idea that online learning is just a temporary fix and this will return to normality when the Covid is over. In our perspective online education is key for the solution of the coming water related crisis as climate change, water conflicts, overexploitation of water resources, issues with water quality and others.
The main limitation in online learning is the interaction among the teacher and the student. Independently from the platform you use, the normal teacher-student interaction, the reaction of the student, the capability to see where errors occur is quite limited with online education. As teachers, we perceive that students don’t express their ideas or problems with the exercises and concepts; on in person classes that is also an issue, but it is being aggravated by online education. If a student has a problem, most probably he will wait until the exam to sort out what was going on.
Students perceive online courses as something cold, as another window on the computer and this can be measured by the other activities that the student might do such as eating, reading the news, interacting on social networks or even playing an online game. Only the most responsible, disciplined and motivated students can get most of the concepts poured in class but they are a minority. Other limitations are internet connection, internet speed, willingness of the teacher to make online classes and others.
One solution could be the mixed learning with both in person and online learning on a course program. The in person part of the program will be focused on assuring the right tools (computer and software), solving some ground problems and getting to know students and teachers while the online part is most related to the exercises.