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Overcoming the challenges of online teaching

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Teaching should be full of ideas instead of stuffed with facts.

The debate has been raging for some time now about the efficacy of online teaching over classroom teaching. With lockdown and COVID – 19, we now have the unique opportunity to experience online teaching. Every step poses challenges and we as teachers are definitely overcoming them.

The world of education has been evolving since time immemorial. COVID – 19 has given teachers and students an opportunity to explore online teaching/learning. It is not an easy task. Using technology in day-to-day business of keeping in touch with students, sending reminders, sharing pictures and videos setting assignments and tests have to be rethought for online classes.

I am a senior secondary teacher, teaching English language to grades 11 and 12 i.e. for students aged 15 to17. I teach in a reputed school in Delhi, India. The faculty use technology and audio-visual aids like power point presentations, YouTube videos and channels, WhatsApp and other such digital content. All these were supplements and add-ons to the classroom teaching, activities, projects, workshops and seminars. But during this extraordinary situation of complete lockdown these technologies become the primary source and not just add-ons.

The online teaching/learning has many challenges. First is neophobia, fear of new things closely followed by technophobia. Teachers are complex humans in the sense that while we are creatures of habit but we also enjoy challenges and adventure. Teachers of the last decade are not very comfortable handling technology as well as the net gen. This first challenge was definitely overcome within the first few days as we got used to the modalities of connecting with students and delivering lessons. Assistance at hand in the form of school Computer /Information Technology department helped a lot.

Being comfortable with Whatsapp,  groups were formed and trial sessions held. We used the software selected for the online classes and had trial classes. Teachers taught fellow teachers before ‘exposing’ themselves to gen z. This created an atmosphere of comfort in handling technology.  

When everything was going smoothly I faced internet connectivity issues. As my students were waiting, I could not connect. I felt cheated that day and my colleagues shared that they also had experiences such problems. Technology means glitches and one has to learn to adapt to it.  This is definitely one great hurdle for both teachers and students. I understood that one cannot rely completely on technology.

Next challenge was the lesson plans and what educational aids to be used and how to incorporate them. There is an ocean of online sites with numerous interesting and exciting lesson plans, activities, and teaching-learning systems in the internet. It is difficult to choose the right thing, but it is more challenging to mould it according to the needs of the students. One has to consider one’s own comfort level too.  Keeping in mind the ‘invisibility’ and lack of visible body language to gauge the mood of the students, teachers have to rely on aural input and frequent feedbacks. Using MS Forms, Google forms helped in creating ‘exit cards’ through which teachers were able to get attendance, interesting and difficult part on that day’s lesson etc. As we started taking feedback it was realized that the forms can be used for assessing too.

In classrooms, students enjoy and remember the nuances of a teacher, the gestures and the expressions all of which add to the experience of classroom teaching. The major challenge the teachers face would be to handle the lack of these things. Clear set of instructions is the need of the hour. Everything has to be clearly stated with no ambiguity.

This is the best time to explore and use the interesting online educational tools available.I have been a fan of Kahoot!. To maintain the interest level of my students, I created Kahoot! On one of the lessons and set it as a challenge to my students. Not only was it an enjoyable experience, it broke the monotony of online classes as well as helped my students recapitulate the lesson. Activities like these create a sense of belongingness inspite of the virtual classroom and remote learning.

I have started exploring other things which I had never before thought of. Class notebook is one such thing where all notes, extra questions, online resources can be maintained for further exploration or use.

Work, life balance has to be managed. Teaching in a school classroom and teaching from the ‘comfort’ of home are different. Managing the household chores as well as getting ready for online classes is demanding on the mental and physical stamina. But we teachers are superhumans. We are managing and are making sure that our students don’t lose out on their studies due to the extraordinary situation of lockdown.

Teachers and parents were worried about the amount of time our young generation spent with smart phones and being couch potatoes. The same people now are helpless about the time students spend with laptops and smart phones in the name of study and education. This is one major issue during the time of lockdown.  

To a teacher of English, teaching, practicing and assessing the four language skills during online classes are a major concern. Reading, Listening and Speaking are comfortably done by students. Teaching the writing skill, coaxing the students to write is the most difficult. I am yet to overcome this and would like to know from fellow language educators how they tackle this challenge.

One difficulty encountered by every teacher is the attendance of students. Students log in and we teachers cannot check if they are physically present or not. One keeps calling out names and sometimes without any response. We prepared exit cards which were filled by students and taken as attendance. But since the exit cards are to be filled at the end of every class, they are not true reflection of attendance. So we started getting the cards filled up in between classes too and varied the timings. ‘Smart students, smarter teachers’.

One challenge that is effectively overcome by virtual classes, I feel, is handling a large body of students. In the regular classrooms, in my school, I handle about 50 whereas, in the online classes, I successfully interact with about 100 students at the same time. This is a great experience.

We are now moving towards online formal assessment. Lot of discussion, planning and practice is going on. I sincerely hope and wish that we overcome this hurdle too and get along in this virtual journey with our students.

Students are great assets in this online journey. Being active netizens they have taken to online teaching very comfortably. During the classes they are a great help guiding me when I get struck and helping me handle any technological hitch that I face. I am indeed happy for this role reversal as they teach me and I learn from them. A teacher must always be a learner.

I feel that I have successfully begun my second inning as a teacher.

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