The classroom – interactive or digital area?

by Carl Bossard

Home office is the name of the new modus operandi for work as well as for the schools. The digital classroom is experiencing an upswing. The euphoria is great however, it is going forgotten that education is also about relationships. Time for a pedagogical reflection.

Our non-stop society has unexpectedly stuttered and faltered, in many ways even come to a standstill. Due to the corona virus even classroom teaching has come to a standstill. However, the approximately 1.3 million school children throughout Switzerland are supposed to continue to their school work from at home as if they were still at school. They work at home, supervised and accompanied via digital channels by their teachers – with texts and assignments. Communication is established through push messages, via entire websites or apps, by video call, sometimes via documents sent by post, sometimes by a good old telephone call or even through face to face conversations in the school building.

Learning requires positive relationships

Distance learning across the board is an unexplored area. Almost no previous experience exists in this area of teaching. Accordingly, its success differs greatly. For many distance teaching is working optimally, however, it works better for some and less well for others. For some distance teaching doesn’t work at all. The headline in the SonntagsZeitung read: “Not all educators are convincing in distance teaching”1. Not without undertone.
The accusations that this should have been taken seriously long ago, were levelled at the schools. It was stated that digital development in education has simply been forgotten and the consequences must be faced. Therefore intensified, even radical digitisation of teaching throughout the country is being called for. However, for the reaction to call for increased digitisation of the schools has to be countered by pedagogical reflection. There is good reason why children have not been left alone with educational software: In short, since we are human2, and because learning requires positive relationships. School and teaching are in many ways an interactive process, a relationship between people.3 Education unfolds “in processes that are densely interactive (with people and things)”4, according to sociologist Hartmut Rosa.

Man is no Robinson Crusoe

Therefore, it is one of the basic anthropological constants that man needs a counterpart in order to recognise himself. Martin Buber, pedagogue and philosopher of religion, has condensed this insight into a core statement: “Man becomes himself in you”.5 Therefore, the human counterpart must not be missing. Even the best digital programme cannot replace the human vis-à-vis. This can also be seen with distance learning in these days of corona. Countless children miss the company of their classmates and their teacher. The other way round, many educators seek direct and personal contact with their students.
Man is not just a Kaspar Hauser figure, and only very few are suitable for a modern Robinson Crusoe. Left to their own devices, they lose themselves in a world without support and orientation. People need a counterpart in order to be able to develop. 

Interpersonal relations are essential

Many research results show, and many expert reports confirm: From earliest childhood two basic needs exist which complement each other: For one thing we want to feel safe and secure, on the other hand we want to discover and experience something new. For this feeling of security as well as for discovering something new, we need fellow human beings whom we trust and who strengthen us while also providing correction. This makes learning easier and strengthens it.
Especially with younger children, these are elementary and resonant gifts. Teachers must believe in the adolescents, pay attention to them, encourage them, acknowledge them and trust them. Supportive and corrective feedback also plays a crucial role. The learners must know what or how to improve. These relationships are elemental to teaching and are all relationship elements. They lie in the interpersonal, in the “in-between” and the divergent. Physical presence and vital interest in the child intensify these interpersonal processes.

Learning is not linear

Digitisation, however, assumes that teaching is a controllable and therefore plannable process, so to speak a linear and convergent start-finish run, precisely calculable and controlled by algorithms. The divergent hardly ever occurs. That is why children have little perseverance to follow a digitalised lesson over a longer period. They soon get bored, because no person is perceptible, and there is no interpersonal energy which animates the student. The physician and neuroscientist Joachim Bauer points out6 that it is this “in-between” that provides young people with the indispensable analogue resonance experiences.
Therefore, a teacher must be perceptible and vital in the classroom. He is more than a “guide at the side”.7 He must be there for a feedback, a humorous joke, for recognition and stimulation, for resistance and argument. Pupils need the understanding attention of their teacher and they must feel perceived and taken seriously by the teacher.

Personal contact is indispensable

What does this mean in the current emergency situation with distance learning, when children have to learn at home alone? It shows how important direct human contact is, when learning together in the classroom with the teachers present and what is suddenly missing now. Many parents try to compensate for this but not all are equally successful. Not all homes are equally learner friendly for the children.

Soon return to the interaction and resonances of the classroom

The emergency situation shows more: pedagogy before technology should be self-evident. Many uncritical digitisers and promoters of a virtual learning world forget this. The use of digital media is usually unproblematic for students. However, what is needed for good learning is a committed personal counterpart. Learning needs positive relationships. Therefore, psychologist and psychotherapist Allan Guggenbühl emphasises that digital media – especially in primary school – are an addition to teaching from person to person. For, human evolution is not the same as technical revolution. Even in the digital age, the human being becomes human being in man. Soon, primary school children and their teachers will return to the resonance space of the classroom. For many reasons this is gratifying.        •

1  Nadja Pastega: “Beim Fernunterricht überzeugten nicht alle Lehrer” (Not all teachers were convincing in distance learning).  In: SonntagsZeitung, 12 April 2020, p. 8.
2  Fridtjof Küchemann: “Warum es so schwierig ist, ohne Lehrer zu lernen” (Why it is so difficult to learn without teachers). In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 20 March 2020.
3  Jens Beljan: Schule als Resonanzraum und Entfremdungszone. Eine neue Perspektive auf Bildung (School as resonance space and zone of alienation. A new perspective on education): Weinheim: Juventus Verlag, 2019, p. 375.
4  Hartmut Rosa: Resonanz. Eine Soziologie der Weltbeziehung (Resonance. A Sociology of World Relations). Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2016, p. 403.
5  cf. Martin Buber: Ich und Du. Gerlingen: Lambert Schneider, 1997, 13th edition.
6  Joachim Bauer: Wie wir werden, wer wir sind. Die Entstehung des menschlichen Selbst durch Resonanz (How we become, who we are. The emergence of the human self through resonance). Munich: Karl Blessing Verlag, 2019, p. 205.
7  Ewald Terhart: Eine neo-existenzialistische Konzeption von Unterricht und Lehrerhandeln? Zu Gert Bistas Wiederentdeckung und Rehabilitation des Lehrens und des Lehrers (A neo-existentialist conception of teaching and teacher action? On Gert Biestas rediscovery and rehabilitation of teaching and the teacher), in: Vierteljahrsschrift für wissenschaftliche Pädagogik, 94, 2018/3, p. 479.

Source: Journal21 of 18 April 2020

(Translation Current Concerns)

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