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What should teachers know before they engage with the online classrooms ?

By G. Balasubramanian

Down the memory lane, I visualize the challenges I faced while teaching Chemistry on the Education Television of ‘ Doordarshan’ in early eighties. On a number of occasions, I had to go on a live session and the level of preparedness had to be extremely high, as even a small mistake you do will get streamed to the audience. Forty years thereafter, with advanced technology being available both to the individual teacher and the learner, the expectations of a quality delivery of content to the learners has reached higher peaks. With the online classrooms, the locus of broadcast(telecast) is the home of the teacher in most cases. The alternate modes of teaching -learning strategies consequent to Covid-19, with most schools having closed their infrastructure for any direct learning, the teachers have tried their own creative and innovate methodologies to fulfil their task and to satisfy the expectations of both their school heads as well as students and parents. However, in the absence of adequate training and support systems, many teachers do find a number or their questions unanswered. Here are a few suggestions to facilitate and remind the teachers to engage with their task online more effectively

What are the key issues parents need to understand?

1. Understand your Curricular Delivery Plan

The modus operandi of delivering the curriculum for an online classroom is slightly different from that of a formal classroom. The curricular architecture consisting of the content, pedagogy, assessment practices have to be re-positioned to the context of an online delivery model where there is less flexibility as compared to a formal structured classroom. In a formal classroom, the teachers can contextually reinvent their curricular delivery models depending upon the psychological, emotional, geographical environment including those of weather, habitat and other factors. Such a flexibility is almost negligible for the online classrooms both because of the remoteness of the learners and their individual learning environment. Hence teachers would have to do a bit of brain-storming with their peers on redesigning their conceptual architectures of the curriculum. Design thinking elements might help in seeking better clarity.

2. Pedagogical Preparation for an online classroom is the key to its success

Normally, many teachers tend to take their classrooms for granted in formal classrooms, thanks to their experience, confidence levels, manageability and flexibility in handling the resources. Variations of moods of the learners could be understood, dealt with and the pedagogy could be positioned appropriately. For online classrooms, teachers need to do extensive preparation as the content design and content preparation has to take note of several factors including motivation and its sustenance, learnability of the learners, varying learning styles of the learners, time-space constraints and variations, remoteness that might lead to disengagements with the learning process and the like. Hence, teachers do not spend more time in preparing the content with a microscopic insight in anticipation of the possibilities and probabilities in learning with the correct insight. Unlike a classroom where largely a textbook would be a major instrument of facilitation, the online classrooms would need multiplicity of resources to gravitate the attention of the learners. Hence, the preparation to an online classroom is the seed for its success.

3. Technology readiness is a key navigator for a successful online platform

In a large number of online classrooms, there is no standard format or platform of technology. The instruments, the support systems, the access, the WIFI reach including the web platforms on which the transmission happens are possibly quite different. Further, the teachers have not been adequately exposed or trained the newer facets of technology adequately. Keeping this in view, teachers engaging with online classrooms have to be doubly sure of the authentic technology they can have and use. However prepared the teachers are, in terms of their pedagogy, in the absence of the right medium for transmission and its online performance, the learners are likely to get demotivated, distracted and become less engaged. Teachers would do well, if they examine their technology preparedness before each commencement.

4. Rehearsing for the show enhances confidence level of the teachers

Just like the key actors rehearsing for the shooting or the sportsmen rehearsing before participation in an event, teachers would be well advised to rehearse their presentation for a few minutes before the commencement of the class. It will help the teachers to take an overview of their presentation, fill in gaps if any, put in place the missing elements in resources, so that they are not put into any last-minute hitch. Sometimes some of these missing elements or gaps might show a teacher in poor light, even though their overall performance would have been good. This is the time when they can examine the background in which presentations are made. In a number of cases, it is seen that some unwarranted inclusions in the background brings some comments from the learners and their parents. Teachers should also ensure that they are formally dressed for such occasions and should not in anyway underplay their dressing profile thinking that ‘this is after all an online class’. I have come to know of some avoidable observations on this count from my friends.

5. The first few minutes makes a lot of difference

The first few minutes of an online classroom sets the tone for the rest of the class. The learners look for some gravitating elements and, in their absence, get on to a mute mode and become passive observers. They tend to be physically present switching off their mental corridors. It is important to design the first few minutes to sow the seeds for further engagement. The type of engagement of the first few minutes would vary depending upon the class, the age profile, the subject and the topic for discussion. Gravitating the attention of the teachers through a well-articulated exercise that bridges their future learning with their past learning, elements that excites them to hear and know, inputs that decrease their possible learning stress levels and those that trigger their freedom to think will help in achieving these ends reasonably.

6. Variety and dynamics in the presentation facilitates motivated learning

Unfortunately, many online classrooms are misunderstood and projects as formal classrooms on screens with teacher occupying the visible space to nearly 90 percent of the given time. It needs to be understood that online classrooms have a great opportunity of using multiple resources for engagement – visual, auditory and dynamic. An effective teacher should be physically present in not more forty percent of the available time and leave the rest to engage with other resources that would meet the needs of the different types of learners. Variety in content and dynamics of the conceptual flow empowers effective pedagogy and enhanced learner engagement. With the facility to reach out to many places, many concepts directly to live stations, teachers have wonderful opportunity of facilitating experiential learning situations in the classrooms. However, the kind of resource inputs teachers use would vary depending on the age-profile of the classrooms. These resources should help in triggering their critical and creative thinking, further their engagement with the concepts, facilitate curiosity for further learning and research. Teachers should avoid straight-jacketed pedagogy and use inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary approaches.

7. Planning for learner’s engagement with learning is vital for effective classrooms

It is said that learning is essentially a process of establishing new neural connects in the brain. Researches of cognitive scientists like Kandel have clearly indicated the continuous process of realignments in the brain’s neural architecture with every bit of learning. This is possible with extensive opportunities for learning. It is important for the teachers to ‘create a need for learning’ by effective integration of their content with pedagogy, resources and methods.. Once the need for learning is realized by the learners their curiosity levels peak and they engage with the learning in their own way -both in terms of learning speed and its priority. Further, cognitive neurologists have stressed on the role of ‘emotionally competent stimuli’ as tools for effective neural networks leading to long-term memories. Hence, both in their curricular planning as well as in their delivery models, teachers should provide positive emotive inputs through visual and aural resources that would help the learners to stay connected with the process of learning and its objectives.

8. Verbal and non-verbal communications facilitate effective learning

Though a lot of inputs are provided to teachers on these two important aspects during their courses on education for a formal classroom, they need a little better consideration for an online classroom. Both verbal and non-verbal communications might have significant impacts both on the way the content and the pedagogy are perceived by the learner as well as on their emotional content during the given time. Use of appropriate language, the speed of delivery, the positivity in the language will have to be taken note of. On a similar note, the body language of teachers has to be extremely sensitive for several reasons. It must be understood that in many online classrooms, they may be watched by parents or even others. There are many instances when adverse comments are passed by a few of them on the transaction process. Teachers may be well advised to become quite professional in their communication methods. In the emerging scenario, this is one important element in the training of teachers and school heads need to take a note of this.

With all these and more, it is quite possible that some unexpected challenges could come when a teacher is an online classroom, landing them in a crisis. Some of these may be out of their own control. They should also know how to handle them with a sense of ease, comfort, laughter and move ahead. I recall one of my online classes wherein I was teaching the preparation of Ammonia in the laboratory. As a method of testing the gas produced, it was passed through a solution of phenolphthalein which results in a colour change. I was on the live show and the colour was not coming through. I didn’t know what to do except making the statement “Well, if we continue it for a little more time, we will get the colour” and moved on. Every online classroom is indeed a new experience. Teachers should keep a noting of all their learnings and challenges for further learning.