Increasing access and engagement in a virtual classroom

Mohd Amzad and Ajam Khan

When the nation-wide lockdown was imposed in 2020, a large number of daily wage labourers lost their jobs. Their children did not receive mid-day meals from the government schools as all state governments shut down schools and this affected the food security of the daily wage labourers. Household food insecurity not only affects people physically and mentally but also reduces family investment in other essential activities. As Pathak et al. (2020) mentioned, temporarily shutting off mid-day meal programmes resulted in a lack of nutritious food and hence did not meet the dietary requirements for an active and healthy life. Parental investment fell sharply after the COVID-19 outbreak because of their insecurities of food and other necessities. Moreover, lack of access to sufficient and nutritious food has a significant association with students’ engagement in online classrooms.

The focus of this study is to explain the best practices that helped increase access, engagement and well-being of class 5 students online during the pandemic. Several techniques were experimented, which turned into best practices.

Students’ access to digital learning
There were 80 students in class. Thirty two students had no access to smart phones, and 18 students lacked access to Internet as their parents could not afford it. Sixteen students were not reachable and only 14 students had access to smart phones and attended online classes on a regular basis. The table shows the strategies that helped reach out to the unreachable students.

Strategies

Help me slideZoom tutorialFlexible class timings
To reach out to the unreachable students, Help Me Slide was added in every online class.
Regular students read the name written on the slide and approached the other students and asked them to attend classes.
There were three categories of students
i) The ones who knew how to use smart phones and operate zoom.
ii) The ones who were not able to use smart phones, a video was sent to them explaining how to use zoom.
iii) The ones who were not aware whether they had smartphones or not. To check it, Zoom tutorials to them along with parents were arranged through community visits.
Many parents were not able to provide mobiles to their kids because of their work timings.
By conducting parent-teacher meetings, flexible timings were introduced according to the convenience of the parents.

Several steps were taken such as distributing food packets, recharging smart phones, designing self-explanatory worksheets and providing tablets to students who had no access to smart phones with the help of ‘Teach For India’.

Student engagement
To increase students’ engagements in virtual classrooms, the following strategies were practiced:

Self-explanatory worksheet – These worksheets were designed keeping in mind the students’ learning levels and were forwarded to them on WhatsApp. The worksheets were framed in such a way that students did not require the physical presence of a teacher to complete them and they could work on them based on their pre-existing understanding of the concept. The worksheets helped me engage students in asynchronous classrooms.

Student-led circles – Every friday, students took ownership of conducting different types of circle time such as drawing, painting, dancing, singing, managing emotions and playing games. These generated love and interest and active participation among students.

WhatsApp group structure – A common Whatsapp group was made for all the 80 students. Lots of discussion took place among higher and middle learning level students including the discussion to operate with an application like Zoom.

Tracking homework submission and making follow up calls – Homework tracker completion was made visible to all the students in the beginning of every class. It made students aware that their homework was being tracked. Follow up calls were made to all the students to check upon their health and requirement of basic necessities.

Assessing students through Google Forms – Google Forms were used to assess students’ performance after each virtual class. Students liked this assessment tool as they used to feel good after getting instant feedback on their submitted responses.

Regular and instant feedback – When students submitted their class work or homework, they received feedback instantly. The core belief was that if feedback on students’ work is delayed, then it might suppress their eagerness to submit their work on time.

Collecting data and setting up weekly goals – Data was collected on a daily basis about the absent students and weekly goals were set up accordingly.

Parents as partners – In each and every decision, parents were involved whether it was related to ensuring accessibility of food, work, general well-being, deciding class timings, submitting homework, attending classes on time or monitoring children’s learning at home. This strategy helped a lot to get all students in the class.

Supporting students and parents with basic necessities – Parents and students were supported with ration, internet recharges for attending online classes, helping them pay their home rents or fill their gas cylinders. So, taking care of parents’ basic necessities and providing them all kinds of support by investing and leveraging strengths of various stakeholders such as school management, non-profit organizations, friends, etc., proved to be the best strategy to increase parental investment in their children’s online classes.

Thus, this study suggests that parental investment can be increased through taking care of the basic necessities of students’ families during unprecedented times and it can contribute to increasing elementary students’ attendance, engagement and well-being in a virtual classroom.

References
• Forbes. (2020, May 19). Parent Involvement Has Always Mattered. Will The COVID-19 Pandemic Finally Make This The New Normal In K-12 Education? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/colinseale/2020/05/19/parent-involvement-has-always-mattered-will-the-covid-19-pandemic-finally-make-this-the-new-normal-in-k-12-education/?sh=60e201405e46
• Pathak, P., Gope, T., Bader, N. (2020). Effect of COVID-19 on public distribution system in India. International Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health, 7(6), 2411-2415.

Mohd. Amzad is an alumnus of Teach for India, Hyderabad and Ajam Khan is a research scholar, TISS, Tuljapur. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].

Leave a Reply