The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamics across the world, including the education sector. Physical classrooms were replaced by virtual learning. Virtual classrooms are the closest equivalent of physical classrooms within the digital world. However, this mode of online teaching is, in no way, a substitute for traditional and conventional teaching.
The journey so far wasn't easy. Despite the flexibility and ease of conducting online classes from home, teachers faced multiple challenges. One of the most important challenges faced in e-learning was multimodality. Everyone learns at their own pace and one size fits all doesn't exist in the 21st-century scenario. With all the gratitude to great tools available for digital learning nowadays, there is still a niche when it comes to experiential learning via virtual mode. In a physical classroom, the educator can provide the right kind of support, resources and can measure the learning, however, that seems like a challenge in a virtual class. One has to be on toes for a healthy dose of creativity and use the right kind of tools to make the virtual class engaging and exciting. All the learners might not seem to be committed to the e-learning experience and thus, keeping them engaged may be a gruesome challenge for the educators. Bringing a virtual class to life and making it functional requires strategic planning and technical support.
At Prometheus, we used applications like Zoom and Microsoft teams to connect with students. Whereas Seesaw was our go-to application for keeping a continuous check on students learning and gathering evidence to measure their learning. Each day had a balanced schedule that started with connect time and mindfulness followed by three academic sessions and a specialist lesson. The celebrations of national and international days and festivals continued to reflect, learn and become culturally liable for we call ourselves an internationally-minded community. With the current need of the hour, the students, as well as educators, were provided with the right kind of workshops like cybersecurity and digital accessibility to create awareness and support the teaching and learning practices. The focus during this crisis was entirely on the learners. From giving additional support to the students by specialists to providing additional classes to clear the concepts, the varsity and educators came together to support students' learning in the best way possible.
It wasn't easy for teachers to engage with early learners independently since they require parental support and involvement to access their online classes. The issues were different at the upper primary and secondary level. The challenges like managing students' behaviour, maintaining discipline and encouraging punctuality were several concerns discussed by the school community. The unconventional set-up of online classrooms makes it difficult for teachers to monitor the actions and behaviours of every learner as many students switch off their video and/or audio, others may leave the classroom in between or sign-in with different names. Some students also engage and participate in private chats or switch windows in the middle of classroom lessons, which is often difficult to detect. Moreover, while technological glitches such as the internet and connectivity issues tend to hamper online learning, the lack of face-to-face interaction with students often makes the assessments more difficult.
Situations like these not only pose a challenge for the teachers but also disturb the flow of the classroom. Teachers then came up with ways to ensure smoother and more secure functioning of their classrooms by locking their virtual classrooms, controlling screen sharing, enabling the waiting room, locking down the chat, and removing unnecessary participants. The role of the educators then became more active in giving agency to the students and empowering them to reflect and self regulate their learning. From designing essential agreements to involving students in planning, co-creating success criteria, designing tasks alongside students became a lively part of everyday teaching and learning.
Another concern that many teachers faced is that of passive students. Every class has some students who either do not attend the online classes due to reasons such as connectivity issues or their lack of interest and/or motivation; and if they do, they often remain passive or unresponsive during the classes with minimal engagement. This resulted in the involvement of the parents where many not only ask questions and queries on behalf of their children but also do the work for their children.
We addressed the problem by conducting and facilitating sessions with the parent community as well, clarifying and setting expectations with them along with making them aware of the difference between supporting and facilitating their child's learning. Interactions with parents not only enables the teachers to create touchpoints with them at each step of their child's learning but also address and resolve the concerns of the parent community. These touchpoints help parents be more involved in their child's development in the right way. This form of active and effective communication with the parent community improves parent-teacher relationships as parents not only begin to place their trust in the school and its teachers but also become active collaborators or co-partners with the school.
While it is important to cater to the apprehensions and anxieties of the parent community, it is equally important to keep in mind and address the physical, mental, psychological, and emotional well-being and needs of the students. At a time like this, where everyone and everything is uncertain and social interaction is minimal, students, especially those with special needs are bound to feel a mixed range of emotions including anxiousness and restlessness.
Schools then must take the responsibility to help alleviate these negative emotions and feelings in their students. Many schools have managed to organize online sessions with the school counsellor or other professional counsellors for their students and the parent community. Additionally, regular communication with the teachers also helps students to stay updated with the current situation.
Even though online teaching seems to have its own set of cons, with reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggesting that the pandemic is likely to stay, this model of online learning is bound to stick around. As a result, both students and educators should make efforts to adopt and adapt to these changes as they try to adjust to the 'new normal.'
Even after the switch to the online space with the implementation and practice of online teaching for nearly 2.5 months since the lockdown, educators continue to observe the shortcomings of their teaching techniques and methodologies and then come up with ways to improve them. At Prometheus, the school management, parents and students had to come as a team to regularly discuss the objectives and alter some of the areas to provide the best that we can as an educational system. We stayed connected with the whole community through Microsoft forms and emails for their feedback and suggestions. We shall still refine our practices to make the learning authentic and meaningful in the coming time.
The success of this 'new normal' will require the participation of all the stakeholders - the school staff and administration, educators, parent community, and students- to come together and work collaboratively. As the teachers make constant efforts to modify and better their teaching practices, the students and parent community must also support them wholeheartedly. It is only through all of our joint efforts and continuous trial and error, that we may hopefully perfect online or e-learning soon and truly reimagine learning.
Author: Aneesha Sahni, Vice Principal, Prometheus School
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