The article was written by Ranjana Joshi and published in Indian Observer Post on 15 May 2020.
E-Learning in Covid Times
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on almost all aspects of our lives. Our way of living, as we knew it, has transformed dramatically- the way we work, the way we shop, the way we exercise and the way we teach and learn, has all changed. Use of technology in most aspects of our lives has increased significantly. It is more discomforting for people because the change that would otherwise have taken years, has now been implemented in matter of a few weeks.
The changes in some areas has been easier. A lot of office goers are working from home, collaborating through video chats, voices calls, chats and emails and carrying out their work successfully from their homes. Grocery and vegetable shopping have moved online for a lot of people while weekend visits to malls and movie theaters has been replaced by new hobbies like sketching, painting and cooking for many.
In the midst of all this, education of children has also changed dramatically. Digital education has not been a new thing in most schools. Many companies have been working with schools for many years now, to increase the usage of technology, to enhance and enrich the teaching-learning process. Technology has definitely made inroads into our schools but what these companies could not do in so many years, Covid-19 has done in a matter of a few weeks.
With schools in the country being closed, most of them have transitioned to online teaching. The ERP systems, which in many schools was a tool which was feared and barely used, is now being used extensively to communicate with students and parents on a regular basis. Teachers are realising the benefits of using a good ERP system and the ease it brings into their lives. It is beyond doubt that this practice will remain even after the schools reopen.
Similarly, the use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) is on an upswing. The old lesson plans and way of teaching might not be effective any more in the new online teaching method. It has however brought into focus the many other mediums that are available to a teacher to make the session interesting and more productive.
“It is beyond doubt that extensive and productive use of ERP and LMS will remain even after the schools reopen.”
The use of videos, presentations, excel sheets, online supplementary materials is now being explored much more by teachers than ever before. While the transition is hard and painstaking but the results are beautiful.
This entire experience of challenging the old ways of teaching and experiencing the newer methods available has given our education system the technological boost that would have otherwise taken years. Speaking to some teachers of private schools in the country, we realise that some changes are here to stay. Even after schools reopen, the teaching process would have changed for the better, with significant usage of technology and the online resources available, to give a much better learning experience to the children.
“Challenging the old ways of teaching and experiencing the newer methods available has given our education system the technological boost that would have otherwise taken years.”
The online teaching has also impacted parents. They have been thrust into the role of part-teacher – a role most had never played and were not prepared for. While juggling office work and house work, they now also have to spend much more time for their child’s education. They have to ensure that the children attend the live classes, have to ensure that the child has access to a computer for their assignments, have to download reading materials, have to keep a lookout for any changes in class timings or any technical glitches during the class. Some schools also send reading materials and worksheets through emails, whatsapp or their school ERP system and parents have to keep a track of all of these.
“Parents have been thrust into the role of part-teacher”
Schools and teachers can support parents in their new role, by giving a short and effective list of supplementary materials for the topics that are being taught. Daily or weekly interactions from school and teachers with students and parents through emails, notices or even phone calls are an effective way to connect with them and understand where their pain points lie and how the school can help alleviate them.
Taking classes from home, also tends to reduce the seriousness that a session in school brings in. Children are in the relaxed mental state of being at home and classes, assignments and activities might lose the seriousness that they require. An effective way to deal with this is having a separate area – a different room, or a particular corner in the room, preferably with a table and chair setup – to serve as the class area for the children. Earmarking a separate area for the class sessions helps create boundaries between ‘home’ and ‘school’.
“Earmarking a separate area for the class sessions helps create boundaries between ‘home’ and ‘school’.”
Even with all this, distance education has its limitations.
The teachers cannot see their students clearly, they cannot assess their reactions to the concept they have explained. It becomes difficult to engage the students for the duration of the class and ensure that all students, not just the sincere ones, have understood the concepts. In the absence of proper face to face contact, expecting teachers to maintain the quality of a regular classroom, is not feasible.
Recording their sessions and making them available for students to go through whenever required, will help in increasing the understanding of students. Labelling the videos properly is an essential habit that teachers must get into for easy access later. Screen-casting while making their video feed visible in a corner makes it easier for students to follow what is being taught while also ensuring that they connect with the teacher by seeing her face and expressions.
With this continuing method of teaching, children are suffering fatigue from excessive screen time. They have to attend atleast 4 hours of online class and then spend another few hours in front of the screen for their assignments. While, screen time cannot be removed if online education has to happen, students seem to understand better and can retain their interest longer in the session if teachers intersperse their lessons with physical activities.
“Children are suffering fatigue from excessive screen time.”
Given the way our schools are built, it is difficult to maintain social distancing if schools were to reopen. Schools might consider staggered classes, with only 50% of strength being present in school at any given time, but whether it is feasible or not is difficult to say. Even then, part of the teaching will have to be done online. Given the current scenario, it definitely appears that online teaching is here to stay for some more time. And in the end, who knows, it may have altered and enriched our education system much more than all the private and government efforts for the past so many years could do.