The virtual medium calls for experiments with new modes of pedagogical explorations
Teaching online is no more an option today; it is an imperative to stay afloat in times of a raging pandemic. COVID-19 has forced people all over the world to revise their lifestyles in some way or the other. Most indulgences that we took for granted in the pre-COVID world have been transformed to rare privileges in present times. Call it new normal or abnormal times, life continues in spite of the unprecedented loss of human lives and concomitant deep anxiety of contraction.
The education system today is suddenly confronted with the unenviable task of adapting itself to the rather unprecedented, peculiar mode of restricted human existence. The teaching learning process continues across most institutions of higher learning, in spite of the challenges of social distancing and human isolation. Keeping in mind the safety of teachers and students, almost all institutions are imparting lessons and conducting their evaluation work through the virtual mode today.
How different is the experience of teaching and conducting examinations online?
Teachers should not see online teaching as a different endeavour but as a natural continuation of the traditional mode of teaching learning process in the classroom. While most high-profile technological institutions may be well conversant with the online mode of teaching, for the majority of organisations in the country, it calls for teachers to experiment with new modes of pedagogical explorations.
Tech tools and connectivity
The key factor of online teaching lies in the availability of proper technological infrastructure — for the teaching and the student communities — both at the institutional and at the personal levels. The buck doesn’t stop there; as the participation of students is vital to the learning process, internet connectivity issues are also of paramount importance.
Unfortunately, this rakes up a whole lot of other ancillary but crucially significant socio-economic issues in a large and diverse country like ours, raising concerns for the economically disadvantaged or socially underprivileged sections of the society.
Recreate the magic of the personalised classroom experience
In such a complex situation, effective online teaching is a challenge for all instructors. It involves greater investment of time and energy, especially on the part of teachers. Effective teaching implies effectual lucid communication on a given subject to pupils glaring at their computer or android screens — right across the country, spanning prime urban metropolises and remote villages.
While routine classroom teaching — in person — gives the teacher an opportunity to not only effectively communicate and personally interact but also provides the instructor with a greater degree of control over classroom proceedings. In a virtual classroom, it becomes relatively difficult for the teacher to exercise similar control, which is neither permissible nor desirable in the given situation.
But that should not deter the concerned professor/teacher from giving it his/her best and generating interest in the minds of the students. Effective, yet lucid online communication can ensure successful student participation even in a virtual classroom set up, across disciplines. It involves more effort and greater engagement on part of the teacher.
A routine online lecture may fall flat, even come across as a drab and monotonous imposition, unless effective use is made of the audio-visual medium to recreate the magic of the personalised classroom experience. For teachers of all disciplines, it is essential to open up the visual spectrum to its fullest potential to the students. It is precisely for actualisation of this experience that teachers have to devote more time and energy in preparation of their lectures in a virtual set-up. The teacher has to ensure his/her presence in his/her physical absence in the virtual world. Such a presence can only be ensured by successfully conjuring up the magical reality of classroom appeal on the computer or the mobile set screen of their pupil, where a student can relive the classroom experience, even sitting in some remote corner of the country. Such a commitment on the part of the teacher would make a difference in the online learning experience of the pupils. In spite of technical glitches or the relative anonymity of the target audience, it is essential to interact with the students at the opposite end. Teachers can do so by encouraging their students to share their queries and views or even asking them to make their own presentations on screen.
Arrange for a reliable feedback mechanism
Be it online or offline teaching and evaluation, student feedback is crucially significant and it is an extremely important part of the present pedagogical process too. So ideally, teachers should arrange for a reliable feedback mechanism, by which they can gauge the efficacy of their online classes. For proper student feedback, it is important for the teacher to involve students across merit groups so that the teacher gets a holistic picture of the entire class and not a skewed viewpoint of a select brilliant or a few privileged pupils only.
Finally, it is important for all teachers to remember that in times of a pandemic, several students are likely to be extremely stressed due to various unforeseen circumstances. Hence, it is important to empathise with these less privileged students of the class and redress their problems as far as possible. Besides constant support and assurance, these students may also be encouraged to share their problems with their close friends and other members of their peer group. Wherever online psychological counseling facilities are available, students should be encouraged to opt for it whenever required.
Evaluation process needs to be revised
In these difficult circumstances, it would also be wise to take a close look at the syllabus being taught. If required, the syllabus may be curtailed with focus on the primary topics which are indispensable. Like the teaching process, the online evaluation process too needs to be revised in tune with the challenging times. Examination questions should test the students’ ability to comprehend and understand the topics discussed in the class. For humanities and social sciences, reflective responses need to be encouraged through online assignments. While conducting time-bound assignments, the open book approach may be explored with greater emphasis on examining the creative, analytic and reflective skills of the students.
A new generation of teachers
Technology can never replace the value and warmth of human touch and interaction. Yet, it can be an effective tool of communication and empathy. In a virtual world, the teaching learning process is bound to witness a lot of changes. Quite a few of these changes may pave the way for interesting pedagogical innovations for the coming generations. This onerous time period would definitely give birth to a new generation of teachers who would be tech-savvy and willing to explore diverse methods to make the teaching learning process more interesting for the upcoming generations.
COVID-19 has rather abruptly brushed aside whatever inhibitions or reservations the teaching community (spanning diverse subject fields) had towards the use of technology as an effective tool in imparting education. Time will reveal the benefits of such a nascent harvest.
Argha Kr Banerjee is the Dean of Arts, St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Kolkata
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