With the spread of Coronavirus, affecting more than 150 countries and people across the globe, a need to switch from offline to online learning became inevitable overnight. Many educational institutions moved all classes and staff meetings online starting mid-March.
Despite the ready availability and accessibility of the internet and technology, this change was met with its own set of apprehensions and anxieties from teachers, students, and parents alike.
The shift from face-to-face interaction in a classroom setting to virtual platforms such as Google Hangouts and Zoom was a big leap, especially for those less equipped to figure their way around the internet and understand the working of an online classroom mediated by a screen and microphone. Moreover, the emotional disconnect caused by the mechanical nature of these online classrooms coupled with the technological glitches such as freezing and blur screens, voice inaudibility, and weak wi-fi networks make online learning tougher and more challenging.
I remember how during my first meeting with my colleagues on Zoom, all of us found it difficult to focus without getting distracted by the background noises of our children and dogs, rustling papers, or the sound of the mixer and the pressure cooker in the kitchen. When we found the solution for this by muting our audios and allowing the speaker to put his/her point across with minimum disturbance, we were faced with other problems such as delayed responses, lags in feedback and lack of confirmation from other attendees. Conversations in the chatbox lacked the same enthusiasm and participation that I used to witness every time I had a discussion with my colleagues, and each of us had to draft our messages carefully to help put across our ideas and suggestions, in the most articulate and precise manner.
This only made me think of the larger challenges that we were going to face while teaching a class of 10-20 early years students - where those who are hesitant or shy may not be able to express themselves as easily, some students might get distracted by television, and others who may choose to open additional windows on their computers or laptops, only to get distracted by them during an online class. A few might even face problems in setting up and logging into the classrooms.
Additionally, I was also apprehensive about the response and turn out for the online classroom system as well as finding a way to harness and foster my students’ creativity and imagination, which often gets lost in an online setting. As opposed to online learning spaces, a classroom setting provides teachers and students with a space to interact more freely and easily – uninterrupted conversations flow from one idea to the other, soon creating a hub of ideas and conversations in a bustling classroom. Certain units of inquiry and dance and music lessons, which were earlier carried out with such ease and efficiency, would now pose a challenge for all of us. Unlike Math or Language lessons, which are comparatively easier to teach virtually, music or dance lessons would not only require more space but also more equipment.
Pondering about these difficulties only made me miss being interrupted by my students, who would ask me questions and voice their opinions, giving the learning a new twist and turn. I also miss bumping into teachers in the corridors or libraries, where we would engage in a small talk which would then lead to new ideas and learning strategies.
However, to say that online learning only has cons would be incorrect. While this new and slightly unfamiliar system has its own sets of challenges, it also has numerous benefits, especially in the current times, where it certainly comes in as a huge boon, if planned and leveraged well.
Students and teachers can attend lessons in the comfort of their houses and sit in while treating a common cold or allergies that come with the season. Teachers can utilize the time saved on commuting to plan for their online learning lessons.
The structure of online learning also enables students to take full responsibility for their learning and take it forward as well as provide them with sufficient breaks to move around and cool off steam. The flexibility of the system is such that it enables educators and students alike to strike a balance between work and rest. Additionally, as and when we conducted more online learning sessions, we realized how many parents were involved in their child’s learning more than ever before, making it a truly collaborative effort.
It is true that the COVID pandemic has undoubtedly impacted and altered the education fraternity and its practices, and it will probably continue to do so even when it shall begin to subside. The transition back to regular operations may not be as smooth as one imagines – however, we are no exception. This is a global challenge.
The shift to previous practices of in-class learning may then seem to be slightly more difficult than anticipated, due to the habitual dependence on online classrooms. People will be expected to leave the comfort of their homes and spend time commuting again as well as alter their present teaching strategies which will be better suited for offline learning.
Nevertheless, one can only hope that educational institutions and educators can have takeaways from this form of online learning, and may even try to enforce some, if not all, the techniques and practices that were implemented to facilitate online learning. Another upside to the situation, which cannot be discarded, is the resilience and adaptive nature of the education fraternity in times of crisis, and hence this must be appreciated. At the end of the day, transitioning in and out of online classrooms is a change across multiple entities. Change is not easy to adjust to, but when we understand that it is the only constant and is inevitable, the transition will become so much smoother. As teachers, we owe leading by example for our children, in embracing change in the best possible manner.
Author: Aneesha Sahni, Primary School Principal, Prometheus School
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