Across all walks of life, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented changes. All sectors have been affected, and people around the world have been thrown into a variety of social and economic crises.
Globally, around 1.52 billion students have been stranded at home, and over 60.2 million teachers remain out of schools, reported by the United Nations Secretary-General (2020, March), making the education sector one of the most deeply affected.
According to UNESCO, the coronavirus crisis has adversely affected over 320 million Indian students enrolled in over 1.3 million recognized schools (AIES, 2002), 789 universities, 37,204 colleges, and 11,443 stand-alone institutions (UGC, 2017). In a bid to adjust to the crisis and to ensure that classes continue, online teaching has emerged as the most viable option available to academic stakeholders.
Notwithstanding, as the digital platform is new for both teachers and students, and due to the suddenness of the pandemic, there was no training intervention to empower teachers with digital skills, many teachers who were skilled in teaching in a face-to-face classroom are unfortunately crippled by the digital shift and are thereby, struggling to learn new techno-pedagogies required to teach online.
Many teachers are even digital immigrants who feel uncomfortable in the ecosystem of online classes. Many issues related to instructional designs, students’ online discipline, learning engagement, teacher-taught relationships, assessment, and non-cognitive developments of students have emerged.
Many questions have also arisen in the teachers’ minds about how to make online classes effective by creating a supportive learning environment in the new digital ecosystem. This article answers all queries and suffices ‘new normal’ strategies that every teacher must use to make online teaching worthwhile, ensuring holistic learning in times of the pandemic.
Setting optimal class size:
It has been observed that educational institutions do not put any upper or lower limit on online class size. However, experts have asked stakeholders to limit the class size even for online teaching as one has for offline teaching in the conventional classroom.
According to the Economic Survey (2017-18), the country has an average student-classroom ratio (SCR) of 30 in face-to-face classroom teaching. Also, the RTE Act, 2009 mandates a pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) of 30:1 for primary and 35:1 for upper primary level. However, for the digital classroom, there are no such established guidelines.
The published researches showed a varying size of online classes from small to large depending on the purpose of course designations. According to a research project, a large size online class with 40 or more students’ enrolment is ideal for ‘foundational and factual knowledge acquisition. On the flip side, a small class size with 15 or even fewer is better ‘to develop higher-order thinking, mastery of complex knowledge, and student skill development.
Designing course materials using multiple strategies:
Online teaching has put new demands on teachers in terms of curriculum reconstruction and teaching content design, given the requirement to provide enriched ‘human and non-human resources and pertinent ‘animated and unanimated’ study material.
In a traditional classroom, the teacher acts as both an instructor and as a guide, but this changes in online teaching. A teacher is now no longer just an instructor but is also a content developer and designer of online curricula. She or he will also need skills in content communication online.
UNICEF has recommended that video lectures need to be kept short, around 30-45 minutes at most with a recommended format. Teachers should also ensure appropriate video and voice qualities and if needed, some enrichment of the content before sharing them with students – all of which make online teachers “super” teachers!
Making teaching more interesting:
Good teaching always requires the teachers’ full-engagement in the students’ learning through explanation, illustration, question-answer sessions, or group discussions. However, there are concerns that online teaching cannot sustain the students’ interests in a virtual classroom.
While it depends to some extent on the teachers’ instructional materials and students’ attitude, in online teaching, a teacher must ensure his or her strong presence in the virtual classroom. Also, it is important for the teachers to make students feel connected to the classroom lectures.
While avoiding monotonous presentations, the teacher should also blend his or her lectures with thought-provoking incentives and humor. The aim is to make students feel empowered in the virtual classroom to have the space for virtual interaction and to provide collaborative learning assignments to students for meaningful participatory learning. This can be a challenge.
Making use of existing e-resources:
Developing e-contents is not a simple task. Teachers who have difficulty in the computer-based preparation of PPT or other content can consider using widely available platforms such as NCERT, DIKSHA, SWAYAM, and NPTEL. These can help teachers to have swift access to respond quickly to students’ requirements.
Assisting unresponsive and slow learners:
In online classes, there are no backbenchers or frontbenchers, but still there are about ten percent slow-learners, many of whom may not be able to understand the teachers’ lectures in the first attempt. Teachers need to ensure the availability of video lectures online immediately after classes are over. There should be a space for repeating some of the taught topics too or teachers may think of organizing remedial sessions for slow learners.
Developing socio-emotional aspects:
Critics of online teaching often argue that online teaching stresses cognitive development at the expense of the socio-emotional development of children. Online teaching promotes a ‘banking system of education’, depositing knowledge-based instructions in children’s minds.
Due to the intrinsic limitation of online teaching, it is difficult to implement the so-called “3-H” principle (Head-on, Hands-on, and Heart-on). Teachers may consider using group-based tasks to encourage collaborative learning to develop the students’ social-emotional skills in virtual settings.
Besides, the use of various incentives, creating opportunities for play-based activities, listening to students’ feelings, and valuing their opinions are invaluable for the learners’ progressive development.
Ensuring teacher-taught relationships:
The teacher-student relationship is concretely embedded in the physical classroom that falls away to a greater extent in online classes. The online ecosystem ensuring physical distancing but has wreaked human contact and socio-emotional proximity between teachers and students.
However, in a bid to develop socio-emotional propinquity, teachers may use some tips, such as sharing personal learning experiences with learners, providing quick learning feedback, and creating a comfortable communication aura and boosting learners to share their learning experiences, etc. Besides, the teachers’ responsive behavior and accountability towards learners are also helpful to improvise the teacher-taught relationships in the virtual classroom.
Establishing home-school online partnerships:
Since online classes are taken mainly in the home, teachers need to ensure that every family has the support needed for effective study. Both teachers and parents need to work together through the ‘home-school online partnerships’ to ensure better learning opportunities, creative experiences, better time management, and safe learning. They should establish ‘spontaneous collaboration’ and ‘hands-on supports’ with parents to regulate online classes for students. Also, teachers should help in better mentoring learners to stay positive and manage stress in this time of crisis.
Nawaz Sarif is a Senior Research Fellow and a former member of the Academic Council (AC) at North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. He can be reached at: [email protected]