On and off the screen

Anubha Rawat

The screen is our classroom now and students and teachers meet, more often than not, virtually. More than a year into the pandemic, we are still glued to our screens focussing on fostering a happy, interactive, meaningful and positive ambience in our virtual classes.

It is the resilience, determination and flexible attitude of the education community as a whole that has helped us sail smoothly even in these troubled waters. This past year has been an eye-opener. In some schools, online classes are continuing, in some others hybrid classes have become the norm. Whatever the case may be, one thing is sure now – online education is a reality and also the future.

Teachers have learnt new ways of engaging their students in online classes, bringing in new tools and learning strategies for meaningful classroom experiences. Besides adapting to new technologies, this unprecedented experience has made us appreciate the little things in our lives. It has made us more adaptable, flexible, confident, and without a doubt, better teachers. In designing new and effective strategies for student engagement, there has been immense professional growth. There were teething problems, but teachers have adapted – and how!

Virtual classes have been such a boon. I have discovered creativity, hidden talents and empathy in my students. Painting, cooking, learning a new language, blogging, stitching masks for the needy, designing gratitude cards, these things I would certainly not have discovered in the physical classroom.

The online classes are not interrupted by “Don’t talk”, “Don’t make noise”, “Don’t spoil the furniture”, “Please do your work quietly.” They are more about, “Wow! I didn’t know you could paint”, “That cake looks yummy!”, “You baked it for your mother?”, “Ghiyu, your father is such an excellent orator”. This is something I wish to continue when physical classes make a comeback. During the online classes, every day has been about a deeper journey into the hearts and souls of my students, discovering new facets of their personality and talents I never knew existed. Education is now not restricted to textbooks. Developing life skills, attitudes and values in our children is so important. In my brick and mortar classes, I intend to begin each class with a warm-up activity – maybe something like sharing our feelings, emotions or an anecdote. This will create a special bond between the teacher and the learner, which in turn will bring about positive and active involvement from the students on the academic front.

In online education, student involvement in utilizing technology for effective learning has become quite commonplace. Students have been designing quizzes, Powerpoint presentations, polls and even assignments leading to learner independence and effective classroom learning. Research work, peer teaching, self and peer reflection give a new dimension to learning outcomes. I certainly plan to focus more on student involvement – not only in participating in everyday classroom activities but also in designing and delivering content for the physical classes.

In the virtual classes, I often share my plans for the week prior to starting my lessons. Knowing the topic and its aims and objectives helps my students to not only focus on what’s in the chapter but also to understand the principles of why they are learning it. The learners are more participative and take ownership of their leaning. I intend to continue with this practice in my face-to-face classes also, as sharing learning plans in advance gives learners more control of what they are learning.

The need of the hour is to save resources; doing online evaluation of assignments and answer sheets saves a lot of paper. Also, there is the added benefit of the data’s ready availability on your storage devices which can be referred to whenever the need arises. I know for certain that when schools do reopen for in-person teaching, I will not ask that my students submit all their assignments in hardcopies. Just like I do today, I will continue uploading assignments online and my students will submit them online too. I will also ensure that extra notes, lesson videos, etc., continue to be available to the students, in the virtual space, so that they can access them whenever needed. Parents can also access their children’s tests, exams, submission feedback, etc., to determine the learning that has taken place and guide their wards based on teacher feedback. Students can reflect upon what they have assimilated and even curate their own learning process.

Virtual classes have given both the teacher and the learner flexibility of location. No need to travel long distances, no getting stuck in traffic jams, no delay caused in commuting, thus leading to effective time management. While we cannot avoid travelling when we go back to school, the lessons my students and I have learnt on time management is something we will bring to our physical classroom.

Tying up with an expert to interact with the students in a physical scenario is not always as easy as on the virtual platform. Over the last one year, we have had full-house webinars even after school hours. The parents also pitched in. A journalist friend took a session with my students on journalism as a career. An alumnus who is a blogger interacted with the students on writing poetry and blogging. Once, we even bonded with the students’ grandparents, who narrated anecdotes and shared learnings from their life. During school events (now conducted online), the presence and participation of family members staying at home and sometimes even residing in other states, has led to great learning as they have showcased the culture of different parts of India, on the online forum.

Online education brought with it online interaction and videoconferences. My students interacted with students from different countries, learnt about their school ethics and teaching-learning process. This helped inculcate respect for different opinions, views, cultures besides developing global and dialogic skills. During these difficult times, the students also connected emotionally with their peers from different parts of the world.

I had never thought of videoconferencing or virtual tours before I started taking online classes and now even in my physical classes, I would like my students to explore the world of virtual tours and videoconferencing. The cherry on the cake would be that the students will be in one room, together with their peers, rather than sitting by themselves in their respective homes, learning virtually. What a treasure trove of knowledge and opportunities this will open up for my students!

I have noticed that children who were very hesitant to speak in the physical classroom are participating in the online classes. Even the shy students who would not have opened up in the physical classroom are voicing their opinions, asking questions. (Yes, sometimes without switching on their cameras, but that’s fine, as long as they participate in the class.) For any learning to take place, participation and interaction are important,what ensues is an enriching learning environment. Students will participate and interact in the offline classes too. It’s just that teachers have to find new ways, develop new strategies to involve the reticent students in the offline classes as well.

When physical classes start I will continue to be an active member of the global teacher community. Talking to and sharing experiences with teachers elsewhere has helped me know about the latest resources and best teaching practices, which have in turn impacted my students positively in our online classes.

As teachers, we are not here just to teach but to make learning happen. Online education has opened new doors for positive and meaningful learning. The benefits of online education are many, as teachers we have to explore the opportunities, tweak them if necessary and use them in the best possible ways in our online and more importantly offline classes.

What can improve in our online classes

While I have learnt a lot from my online classes, I do agree that there are areas related to online education which can be looked into and further improved to enhance the teaching-learning process.

In online classes, a teacher needs to be well-prepared before the class. A teacher must be very clear in the pre-preparation, designing her lesson, activities and evaluation for the class.

In a physical classroom, if a teacher notices that a student is not participating or is misbehaving, she can prod the student, but in a virtual class, the dynamics differ. Every school needs to have a comprehensive online school policy.

Using digital tools and online resources effectively will help us reach our students better. There are a plethora of online resources to explore and the need is to use age-appropriate online content for a structured class.

One must utilize the breakout room facility more in online classes. A teacher can monitor the progress of students by entering the breakout rooms, observing the participation of the students and then working on the weak areas of the students.

Authentic assessments is another area we need to focus on to improve online education. One must transform assessments to suit requirements and check whether our assessment methods are in line with the learning outcomes.

For those who had the resources, online education was a boon as it gave them access to education but we need to reach students even in the remotest of areas so that they are not deprived of education because of lack of resources or internet facility.

The all-round development of the child is at the centre of all that parents and teachers do. Parents are important stakeholders in a child’s education. So, parents’ involvement and feedback must be taken into account to create better learning experiences for our students.

The author is an English language teacher who loves creating vibrant, rich and positive learning pathways to nurture empathetic, independent and responsible learners. She can be reached at [email protected].

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