Deccan Education Society (DES) has announced that all its schools and colleges will be conducting classes online. It is an apt decision in the interests of students and is in accordance with the multitude of solutions and new practices in various fields in the current times fraught with uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This decision of DES becomes all the more relevant and essential in view of the lockdown and social distancing norms.
While we all are trying to put our act together to launch online teaching, it might be worthwhile to take a look at the various aspects of this new activity being launched.
It has been often stated that online education has the advantage of equity. Students from all the backgrounds have access to the same quality of learning material. In the current scenario of DES launching online education, most of the online material which is proposed to be launched would be in accordance with the syllabi prescribed by the State Board of Education, or the concerned universities. This does ensure equity as far as the content is concerned. However, would our online effort ensure digital equity?
Secondly, every institute has a character, which is often stated through its ‘Vision and Mission’ or ‘Goals and Objectives’ statements. Presuming that the class-room education was indeed ensuring that the Vision, Mission, Goals and Objectives of the institute were the guidelines during the various co- and extra-curricular activities, how do we now ensure the same in the online education?
There are many more challenges but this write-up ponders upon above points and attempts to initiate a thought process for a policy in online education at DES.
To begin with, it might be a good idea to quickly review some of the terminologies.
• education that takes place over the Internet.
• referred to as ‘e- learning’, ‘blended learning’, ‘virtual learning environment (VLE)’ ‘mobile learning’.
• get the education you want, from anywhere in the world, on your own schedule.
• not a course delivered via a DVD or CD-ROM, video tape or over a television channel
• it is interactive – you can also communicate with your teachers, or other students in your class.
• is online or distance education delivered in real time.
• Can be through video conferencing, live-streaming of class using some platform
• Real time interaction is possible.
• Rigid schedules
• Technical challenges are more (device availability, wi-fi, bandwidth, battery)
• Attendance can be monitored.
• Takes place through online channels without real-time interaction.
• Flexible timings (learn whenever device/ internet/ power is available).
• Interaction through offline chats, emails.
• Studying in isolation – could lead to complacency, supervision from parent may be required.
• Attendance may not be monitored.
Before we start pushing the study material (pdf, ppt, word files) online, start online live-classes, launch pre-recorded videos and so on, we will have to refine the online curriculum in order to be more inclusive to meet the diverse needs of learners. Due to the current pandemic, many students would be in diverse situations, and accessibility of certain online content could be a challenge for many students. Not all of them would have a computer with microphone and speakers, or a laptop at home. Some may not have even a smart phone. In fact, many parents too do not have a smart phone.
One thing is certain, that Online Education has to become the new normal, so we can only move towards e-Learning and now there is no going back. So how do we include the students who may not be able to attend live classes? We definitely can not leave them aside. Hence we will have to utilise both synchronous as well as asynchronous learning. Further, every student could be assigned a teacher who will communicate with the student to understand the student’s challenges and resolve them. This teacher would supervise and monitor the student’s progress and maintain a record of the same. It is preferable that a teacher who has taught a particular class in 2019-20, be continued as monitoring teacher for the same class. In most cases the students would already have a good rapport with their previous year’s teachers and hence would be relieved and happy to see that teacher in online classes or hear that teacher’s voice on the telephone. Initially the teachers would have to spend some time talking to the students and their parents over the phone and give them assurance about the various issues that could be traumatising the students. This would probably entail training of teachers in how to counsel the students and parents in these times. One point which readily comes to the fore is of a student getting scared that he/she would lag behind his/her class due to non-availability of technology or device or due to lack of one-to-one instruction from a teacher. This will have to be dealt with by the teacher by reassuring the student and then resolving the issue using some out-of-the-box, unconventional ideas, or by seeking the help of DES management to resolve it.
Another challenge will be that the teacher, who is so used to scan the faces of the students, for a feedback, to know whether they have understood whatever he/she has been teaching, will no longer be able to get that kind of feedback. So, the teacher will need to devise periodic feedbacks within every online lecture to check the attentivity of the students. In a classroom the teacher can ask random questions when students’ attention falters to bring the attention of students back to the class, can initiate a discussion, can allot group activities, can trigger essay competitions, give reading assignments, or can encourage bright students to help the academically weaker students. This community/ collaborative learning will now have to be built-in in our online education.
We mention, in our mission and vision statements, many qualities that we wish to inculcate in our students – socially responsible, nationalism, leadership and so on. Can we build our online education to seamlessly deliver the trainings to develop and nourish these qualities? Skills such as collaboration, communication, and creativity have to be inculcated through the online teaching methodology adapted by the teacher. These can be put into practice through innovation labs like Atal Tinkering Labs, modules on entrepreneurship and socially responsible behaviour.
The challenges here will be to meet the diverse requirements of the students in a class. Asynchronous education does seem to be a possible solution, which could resolve the issues of access to devices (computers/smart phones) and as it offers the students, the parents and teachers, maximum flexibility during this unpredictable time. It also allows the student to pace her/his learning and to pause the lecture to take notes.
The online course designer needs to ponder on questions like, for instance:
1. What are the situational factors for launching of the course?
2. Who are the students – school/high school/ UG/ PG, rural/urban, language competencies, digital competencies, financial background?
3. What are the learning outcomes?
4. What is the course content? What must be delivered? What may be omitted?
5. How to make the course content relevant to your students? (e.g. real-life examples).
6. What is the common pedagogy in the class?
7. How to assess the students with reference to learning outcomes?
8. What alternative methodologies could be used to attain course outcomes?
9. How to assess whether the learning outcomes were met by the course?
10. What sort of collaborative activities can be built in?
11. How will the students raise their queries, resolve their doubts, ask questions?
12. How can we reward/appreciate the students who make an effort to learn, irrespective of their baseline (e.g. a student at the bottom of the class)?
13. What flexibilities in learning can be provided?
14. Has it been made clear to the students, what they are expected to do, what they will learn, what they will be assessed for, how they will be assessed, when they will be assessed?
15. Do the students know who to ask for help?
16. Are there any cultural/ hidden/implicit/unconscious biases and stereotypes in the learning material?
17. Is the style of your study material friendly? Inviting? Learner centred? Authoritarian? Encouraging? Overbearing?
There can be many more such questions and list is by no means exhaustive.
While we move towards the new normal, when designing and launching the online education it will be essential to ensure equality, accessibility, inclusivity and collaborative learning. Students, who are now isolated from their peer group and from their teachers, need more support and it will be necessary to reach out to each student, to ensure support and assure the child that the school cares for her/him.
An Educational Shift: Encouraging Mission-Driven Online Learning May 20, 2020 Gwen Bass, PhD, and Michael Lawrence-Riddell
Access and Equity for All Learners in Blended and Online Education: Raymond Rose, Rose & Smith Associates, October 2014.
Inclusion by Design: Tool Helps Faculty Examine Their Teaching Practices, September 18, 2017 Carl S. Moore, PhD, Edward Brantmeir, PhD, and Andreas Brocheild, PhD