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Challenges of online teaching

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As many of us make the enforced move to the unfamiliar world of online teaching, there are obviously going to be some major challenges to how we deliver our lessons remotely. What are some of the key challenges you have faced, and how have you overcome them?

Schools, Institutions and the likes who run blended learning courses are better equipped and oriented to deliver online. Enforced move to remote teaching comes with its own challenges not only for teachers but also for students and parents.

Below are some challenges for teachers and ideas to overcome them:

Students welfare and well-being:

Unlike physical classroom situation, students are less visible and therefore their needs and problems become less visible which might limit teachers’ ability to respond. For example, social factors, siblings, noise, household chores, finding a quiet place or family environment might not be conducive leading to stress. Ascertaining that all is well and their preparedness to study becomes very difficult.

It's important to involve them in deciding the best time for them to be on the online platforms.  A mutually agreed ‘tentative window’ can be a good idea. This might help students to restyle and adjust their routines/chores and get ready to participate.

Managing expectations:

Teachers who suddenly switch to online teaching may be confused about what and how to go about things. With no clear timetable, lesson plan, books and resources teachers may find it challenging to decide what activities to do, how to engage and motivate students.

Sometimes parents expect loads of worksheets/ tasks, a way of keeping children quiet and engaged, which could back fire making students disinterested in learning. They might want to chat with their friends and engage in another way.

It's important to work out with your school and colleagues what the expectations are and make those very clear to students (and parents). One way to manage expectations is to decide 'online working hours’ where the class can see (virtually ) each other, interact and understand tasks. Also it's a good idea to share a schedule of when you'll be online outside class time, something like ‘office hours or staffroom hours’.

Tell them you won’t be visible 24/7 and that they shouldn’t expect prompt responses outside the staffroom hours. This should be agreed with colleagues or your school. Let them know a maximum response time for any messages sent outside those hours. Consider what is reasonable for you and for students. Set a time limit (usually 24 hours) when they  can expect your answer, feedback or response. If anything is posted outside the office/staffroom hours, they need to be patient. Make it longer for weekends or just keep it Monday to Friday.

They can be free to use the chat forums or other platforms to post their queries / comments should they wish to discuss /engage /consult with their peers. It's important to work out all these with your school and colleagues and make those very clear to students (and parents). Teachers  need to look after and prepare themselves before helping students! To avoid any disappointments students (and parents) need to know :

  1. what equipment, software they should have, for example a PC with stable connection, MS office, Zoom, adobe etc
  2. how to install any software they need, how to use the platform functions, any other technical help.
  3. what work they need to submit, when and how
  4. who to inform if they get sick and are unable to do the work that has been set.

In fact it will be ideal if these can be documented and shared right in the first lesson or done as  ‘finding your way around ‘ activity. A quiz  or survey enumerating the above (with expected answers) can be framed and done.

Further, to manage expectations and make life easier, use digital tools and resources that you have been using and are comfortable with. Keeping things simple will yield better results. For example if you are not able to make videos, encourage students to make videos . Teachers with good IT skills can prepare an easy step by step guide  for all. Unless you already know some tools or have plenty of time and confidence with digital tools, don't feel that this is necessary. Start with the basics and build up slowly and share your learning with colleagues.

There’s no need to load students with boring and mundane tasks and work sheets based on textbooks. There can be tasks based on what’s going around in their surroundings or real world. The more varied the tasks, the more engaging and enthusiastic students will be.  For example for a language lesson, depending on the grade/level , students can be asked to make a list of words they come across in  their environment. It can be from the conversations or discussions they hear at home or from the television. Taking an example of COVID19 scenario, several new words have come up – quarantine, self- isolation, facility, lockdown, sanitize and so on. A language teacher could do everything from language analysis, sentence formation, to finding antonyms as vocab enrichment exercise. Students interested in science could explore the scientific causes, solution and medication being employed by authorities.The political, economic, social and psychological impact can be explored and shared.  Tasks in small bytes on a day to day basis works better than giving a week long task list.

Communication:

As we all know students learn not just by communicating with teachers, but with all. Keep the communication channels formal and informal. In fact, learning just happens most of time during informal chats and conversations.

Too much openness or strict rules can be pernicious. You might want to draw up a class room contract with do’s and don’ts for communication. This allows students to set their own rules and conditions and are likely to adhere /respect them.

It’s important to set up communication channels for all to work as a team. Apart from chat forums and platforms in an online course, setting up of Edmodo comes as a blessing. It’s a great way to have the whole class together It offers a number of options and possibilities to communicate, share materials and ideas.

To keep students' interest alive and have their attention teachers should post frequently in forums This could be :

  1. comments and encouraging messages for the work they are doing,
  2. guidance or questions if some have misunderstood,
  3. suggesting some links or extra information,
  4. it might just be a funny video 
  5. could just be a "How are you feeling today?" type of message.

Online teaching:

Online teaching doesn’t come very easy. Working from home may seem relaxed and amazing but its harder than perceived. Technological reliance, reconciling conflicting learning styles and self-discipline are pre requisites.

Teachers generally have a fair idea of learning styles and preferences of their students. Keeping this in mind, it might be a good idea to have lessons that appeal to auditory, visual and kinaesthetic learners. For example a mixed bag of audio links, mp3,recorded tasks, power points, and surveys (using IT tools) can measure up to differentiated learning. Variety helps to break the monotony as well.

Online courses can feel isolating and lonely. Live sessions can be really valuable for maintaining connections. This might be in the form of 10 minutes at the start of the day, to check on them, saying hi, asking about their wellbeing, any glitches  and spelling out the stuff they’d be doing for the rest of the week. Online meet-up a couple of times a week should be good enough.  Live sessions can get our students interacting with us and each other. You could teach a concept in an interactive way, by involving them and asking questions to check they are following you.

Webinar platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft teams and adobe connect can be used. By using breakout rooms pair work and group work can be done just like in class. In fact, the teacher may just monitor the whole thing; it could be an opportunity for learners to do group work tasks, where the teacher occasionally pops in the groups to provide feedback. It might not be easy for students to come on live sessions, so make the most of it and do activities and teaching that involves speaking and discussions. You wouldn’t want to do a gap fill or a writing task sort of a thing.  Live sessions might be really useful in current situation. It would be a feel- good -factor for students to see their class mates. It could be exciting as well.

In some cases, one to one meet up can go a long way in checking how they are coping with academic as well as other things. This can be for exceptional case, although it’s not always possible.

Managing live sessions can be challenging owing to the fact that all students may not have the same equipment. For instance, Mac Pc, phones, tablets have different interface and functions may vary.  To have a successful session, it’s important to direct/guide them to have online tutorials for trouble shooting.

Students who are new to the online environment or who have lower motivation and drive may fall behind or get confused.  Creating a structure for the class and clearly communicating deadlines and due dates for assignments can help to overcome this challenge.

 

 

Madhu Tiwari

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