With Teachers’ Day just past, here’s looking at how educators are coping with a new mode of teaching
Teachers had less than a week to prepare for the online delivery of the courses left incomplete, due to the hasty closing down of schools and colleges, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote teaching/learning was an emergency solution. Many had never dabbled in online teaching.
Indian teachers are used to chalk-and-talk teaching, which is a practical way of communicating concepts, clarifying doubts, teaching even subjects such as math and Engineering. Besides, it is a method that works in all circumstances and locations. Students too are used to following the teacher as she teaches on the board. The general bustle and the playfulness of students also keeps them and the teacher engaged and relaxed.
Technology in tow
A couple of colleges arranged a brief training for teachers on the use of Google Meet, and Zoom. However, Dr. Jaslene Bawa, who teaches Accounting and Costing at FLAME University, Pune, remarked, “Nobody prepared us for the challenges of teaching online.” Many others agreed with her.
Professor Anurag Mehra who teaches Chemical Engineering at IIT Bombay spoke of the difficulty of speaking to the camera in the absence of students and suggested dropping of minor courses and focusing on the major ones, as this would make it easier for everyone.
Bawa, Mehra, and Professor Anjali Gera Roy, who teach English at IIT Kharagpur, sorely miss the live interaction with theirstudents. Roy says that looking at students enables a teacher to use their non-verbal responses to change towards what’s of interest to them.
Student feedback also reveals they have missed the face-to-face interaction. They say it is difficult to clarify doubts. Some teachers have devised options for students to raise questions/doubts, through e-mail group or special sessions on course websites.
Though the faculty interviewed come from the better-endowed institutions, not all their students have high-powered Internet connections, iPads, laptops or Android phones at home. Teachers fear that such students are being left out. Students too want recorded videos on YouTube instead of attending virtual classes, as they are unable to always attend at the given time due to sharing resources with their family. Roy confirms that, despite being given advance intimation, a section of the class doesn’t attend.
Bawa says Google Meet helps her know how many students are present. Mehra is not happy about the students’ non-attendance and recommends they be given loans to buy laptops and data packs. The issue of poor connectivity bothers the faculty, as they also experience connectivity problems making it hard to take virtual classes.
Sangeeta Vishwanathan, a science teacher at Ravindranath Tagore English Medium School, Pune, a government school for less privileged students, conducted an online session on cell division for class X students. She used a downloaded video that employed cartoons to explain the complex topic. Vishwanathan focused on explaining only the main concepts in Hindi because students weren’t fluent in English.
What I found enjoyable was her interaction with the students. Her tone was conversational and she took pains to teach the two major concepts first by going over the slides. At the end, she revised the concepts with the students. She told them to take screenshots of important slides and said she’d send them the page numbers from their textbook to study. At the end of an hour, a student remarked “Miss, the class is over? So soon?” Out of the total 40 students, 30 attended and enjoyed every minute.
Teachers are also trying to discover strategies to test students so they don’t cheat. Should it be short quizzes all along the course, or proctored online tests using a software or home assignments to express their own opinions? It’s a dilemma. Students too are applying their mind on how to help their teachers give their best. Create an offline app, send recorded lectures and notes, give practice sheets and solved problems… a churning of ideas has begun.
From general observation, it seems that it would help to train teachers to use Zoom, Webex and Google Meet, and online pedagogical methods. Teachers have taken a courageous leap forward. Improvement is a dynamic process and will continue.
By: Viney Kirpal was Professor of English at IIT Bombay.