Creating learning experiences – virtually

Neha Pradhan Arora

Even as the world is continuing to adapt to this new normal, teachers have in the last six months upgraded their own technological infrastructure and skills, figured out a rhythm to balance between school and home, ‘at home’, tried to stay up-to-date with government announcements for schools and tried to create some sort of a learning environment to fulfil their roles as teachers. The question that has been on my mind through these months is what do we hope to achieve with virtual classes?

What is the purpose of teaching virtually?
Is it to keep children engaged?
Is it to complete the syllabus?
Is it to pacify parents?
Is it to have some semblance of normalcy and structure?
Is it to keep social relationships alive through virtual connections?
Is it to facilitate academic learning?

It is probably a bit of all these that schools and teachers have in mind even as they try to recreate classrooms virtually. What is important to remember is that physical classrooms and the teaching-learning process as we knew it cannot be replicated virtually. It can be adapted and used for the purpose of relevant and meaningful learning. It is thus important to redefine the purpose of these virtual classrooms to help students experience connection, belongingness, safety and structure while helping them build resilience, create positive memories and be challenged for more effective learning, independently. It is here that experiential learning tools can play a significant role.

So what does experiential learning mean in these times when you can’t visit a museum, factory or forest; or when you can’t have the children play physical games and do group activities? Experiential learning refers to a carefully designed experience, with clear objectives and a real world context; which encourages interaction at home, digitally or virtually and is supplemented with reflection and analysis to facilitate deep and insightful learning.

How is this possible? What are the specific tools? What can teachers do? Given below is a list of tools that can help create meaningful experiences even as children are in school, ‘at home’.

  • Immersive videos, movies and songs which can be used in class or given as a pre-watch in the flipped class model.
  • Demonstrations and experiments for science, maths or geography.
  • Perspective-building exercises through role plays, dialogues, visualizations and games that are being adapted to the online space.
  • Virtual tours of galleries or collections of museums, national parks or factories (links to which are available online) as an exploration during class or in the flipped class model.
  • Virtual interactions with experts like authors, lawyers, judges, sports persons, scientists – even those who live in different cities.
  • Virtual skill demonstrations in cooking, art, weaving, carpentry which are connected to theoretical concepts.

What will make these effective and impactful learning experiences is the tools created for reflection and discussion by the teacher. Simple templates, observation and introspection sheets, game tools, graphic organisers or even maps for the students to fill up would help to supplement the learning.

Virtual learning festivals which include musical, art-based and presentation-based ways to showcase one’s learning can also be adapted to the online space, much like how assemblies, parent-teacher meets and other events in school have gone online.

The most powerful resource for learning experiences at this time, however, is the home and the family. Designing experiences that use tools of interaction, exploration and action within the home and family can help to create a sense of belonging, strengthen relationships, build resilience and facilitate learning. Given below are examples of tasks and theme-based home engagement tasks that can be created –

Cross Curricular (any class)

  • Learning a skill at home – cooking, embroidery, cleaning, ironing.
  • Bringing a new behaviour home – segregation of waste, resource-saving action, fund raising.
  • Campaign for change or solving a real world problem.
  • Volunteering virtually with organizations.

Primary –

  • Reading a book everyday – online (www.storyweaver.org.in is a virtual treasure) or physically or reading out a story to someone (at home or on the phone) everyday.
  • Keeping a lockdown journal – using cartoons, photos, writing, news and other media.
  • Creating and performing a puppet show for those at home or virtually and capturing the same on a video.
  • Sorting and categorizing objects to help with chores and to learn – vegetables, clothes, books, dals.
  • Drawing or taking photos of shapes you see in the house.
  • Reading simple recipes and carrying out the instructions to make the dish (comprehension/measurement/cooking).
  • Eating a balanced meal everyday and maintaining a photo tracker.
  • Carrying out a water or waste audit at home using a simple template.
  • Exploring the farm to table journey during the lockdown by talking to the person at home who buys vegetables or a vegetable vendor (if it is possible).
  • Understanding transport and communication in the time of Covid through surveys amongst family and friends.
  • Creating a song for handwashing and teaching it to the people around you.

Middle/Senior –

  • Keeping a lockdown journal or blog – using cartoons, photos, writing, news and other media.
  • Interviewing a relative about an event of the past or a present experience.
  • Watching a movie and writing a review.
  • Reading an article online and writing commentary.
  • Reporting events happening at home or in the neighbourhood in a balanced manner while presenting all sides of the story.
  • Writing letters to the government about problems related to public facilities during the pandemic.
  • Chronicling family history or setting up a family museum.
  • Framing a family constitution on the basis of common family values.
  • Exploring textiles and fabric at home to understand weaves and textures of India within the context of the Silk Route.
  • Discovering the world in your kitchen through the ancient Spice Routes.
  • Where do my sports shoes come from? – decoding modern day trade and supply routes.
  • Creating a virtual tour of your home.
  • Experiments for science with observation templates and application to everyday situations.
  • Designing a shelter/a mask (for people with specific medical or physical needs) for the pandemic.
  • Creating a machine for a specific purpose at home or in public spaces.
  • Learning to change a bulb.
  • Trying to minimize waste in your household with measurable and tangible actions.
  • Growing a seasonal vegetable.
  • Discovering elements (iron, calcium and others) in our food or in the kitchen.
  • Experiment with different ways of cooking and preserving food.
  • Estimation of groceries or budget for your family.
  • Decoding data and statistics related to the spread of the virus.
  • Exploring an exponential growth pattern of the virus.

All of these ideas and many others can be opportunities for experiences that facilitate learning which is real world, meaningful and impactful – both academic and beyond. These must also be strengthened with relevant and age-appropriate tools (verbal, written or digital) for observation, documentation, reflection and analysis. Sharing learning is another critical part of the experience that often gets ignored as we prioritize other forms of assessment.

There is no dearth of innovative ideas nor of creative educators. What is needed is probably the courage to accept that learning in these strange times must be redefined by purpose, methodology or technology and by content. The ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ must all change to help us – teachers, students, parents and the communities we are a part of – cope with resilience, strength and faith in our individual and collective abilities.

The author is a creative and passionate educator and has worked in the education and development sector for over 15 years with a focus on building capacities of young people and teachers. She works with schools across the country to help strengthen the teaching-learning environment through dialogue and learning experiences. For more on these ideas, write to her at [email protected].

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