Energizing and enlivening the online class

Anuradha C

This is the story of a superstar high school physics teacher. He has the reputation of being the students’ favourite for over a decade. His students never bunk his classes. His class notes are popularly shared with students of other schools! His elegant sense of dressing, gesticulations in class and offline rapport with students are local legends within the school. Sounds cool, right?

So what’s the story all about then? Like all good stories, this one too has a twist. And the villain of this story is – the Coronavirus pandemic! The story is about how the teacher floundered in the initial days, during the forced transition to online classes. And how he managed to make a heroic comeback after mastering the online trick.

We can easily relate to his initial hurdles. Let me list a few of them for sadistic pleasure; we weren’t alone in this struggle you see!
• He couldn’t walk around the class! He could not imagine sitting in one fixed position and talking. He missed the dynamism, physical proximity and eye contact.
• Enforcing discipline was turning out to be tougher than the most complex mathematical concept! Shouts like “Mute your mic!”, “Not another loo break!”, “Look at the monitor, not through the window” were sapping his energy and concentration.
• Homework was turning out to be futile, because it was near impossible to check what the children have done.
• He was missing his beloved blackboard and chalk! Talking without a visual aid was turning out to be ineffective.
• Finishing an intended lesson within the stipulated time was just not happening. The call setup time, network issues and overheads were eating into too much of class time.

His problem list is much longer, but there is little point in delving into them in further detail. It’s the solutions that he implemented that are a matter of greater interest. His frustrations were shared by his peers, especially those who were not very comfortable with the online universe. The result of their deliberations and committed efforts took a while to bear fruit. But when they did, the teachers got their momentum back and classes didn’t sound like a chore any more. So here they are…

Tips and techniques to increase the effectiveness of online teaching
Build a storyline – Our textbooks sound dry and uninviting to students because they take no effort to build an interesting premise before introducing a topic. Now that you have the freedom to experiment, try hooking the students with an engaging story built around the topic. For instance, before beginning a lesson on the center of gravity, why not show a visual story around the gravity defying Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Classroom flipping – That’s the technical jargon for putting the cart before the horse. That is, homework comes before the class, not after. Students are given a topic to prepare in advance. You could set up small groups, similar to traditional study groups, for supportive mentoring of fellow learners. Point them to appropriate reference material and clearly define your expectations. Now the online class becomes a discussion forum, so it increases participation. You can reserve actual in-class time to put what they have learned to test with teacher-guided activities such as debates, problem-solving, in-depth discussions, quizzes.

Pre-recorded video lectures – Instructional parts where the teacher is communicating one-way can be video recorded before-hand. Keep it short, stick to a clear, concise topic. And walk around the room to your heart’s content! When you play the video in class, you can just sit back and watch what the students are up to. Interruptions will not disturb your thought flow either. It might sound like extra work, but saves the teacher a lot of stress during the actual class.

Out of class engagement – Now that you have taken the online plunge, might as well go the whole hog! Sharing interesting and educational posts on online discussion forums is one way of doing it. Learners can also post to request assistance from each other, developing peer-to-peer support. Leverage the power of social media to increase engagement with student groups. These methods may be more effective in gauging the students’ understanding when compared to the traditional class test. You can start a class blog which will be a collective document prepared at the end of the lesson. Collaborative editing by the students, review and approval by the teacher. Ready reckoner for the exams, no more last minute scrambling!

Salary restructuring to include ‘online’ allowance – Schools can allocate a budget for one time purchase of home office infrastructure (laptop, broadband connection, web cam, wireless headset, furniture). Teachers can be given a small monthly allowance for network and power usage at home. This can be in lieu of certain other earlier allowances like food/travel allowance.

Mixed mode of instruction – Online classes do not have to be just video calls. Instructional videos, slide shows, audio voice-overs, live demonstrations, play acting, group discussion, gaming, puzzles – take your pick, whichever works best for the topic under discussion. Make sure your content is mobile friendly as most students in India use their mobile phones and not laptops for connecting to the class. Gaming for educational purposes is a promising prospect that the Prime Minister touched upon in one of his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ sessions, (more on this later).

1. VLog – VLog simply means Video Blog. A free format video that can be a mix of infographics, voice-overs, video snippets, animations, anything. Microsoft Movie Maker software that comes free in Windows is good enough for starters. Apple Mac users can use the iMovie tool. Filmora is a good option (not free) for more sophisticated videos.
2. PPT tools – MS PowerPoint, Google Slides, Slideshare, Prezi are all useful options for slideshow presentations.
3. Infographics – A combination of descriptive points along with pictures, graphs, statsitics, real world examples. Powerful and concise, as compared to lengthy worded explanations.
4. Online whiteboard – Creately software is a good example of a collaborative whiteboard. You can plan, brainstorm, analyze or design any subject together with the students.

Today our superstar physics teacher is reconciled to his new online avatar. And he is quite prepared to go on indefinitely with this new arrangement. His students are thoroughly impressed with his efforts. He even has his own YouTube channel now!

One thing he still misses which can never be done online is sharing endless cups of coffee with his fellow staff members over a lively chitchat. Sigh, the good old days!

The author is an IT industry drop-out after several years of slogging and money-making. She is now working freelance as a corporate technical trainer and content writer. She is hoping to channelize her passion for writing into a satisfying experience for herself and a joyous experience for her readers. She can be reached at anuradhac@gmail.com.

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