By Swechhya Rajbhandary, Project Co-ordinator, DEMOLA
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has led to a global crisis and brought the nation to a halt with much uncertainty for the future, like most academic institutions, King’s College also faced a conundrum: how might we stay home and flatten the curve without putting a halt to education?
Being a progressive educational institute that fiercely promotes innovation, we couldn’t give up without trying to tackle the challenge. Years of getting our hands dirty with various innovative approaches in education like design thinking – a problem-solving model – has shaped our minds to intuitively try solving problems especially during times of crisis.
After brainstorming different possibilities such as postponing sessions, providing students with study materials and assignments, we set our sights on conducting student-centric online sessions – a synchronous mode of teaching to continue maintaining the quality of learning and human connection. Renowned international universities have been quick to go online, and have made it seem effortless, yet we knew we had to prepare ourselves for the specific challenges we would face in the context of Nepal. And so, here is King’s College’s recipe for running Nepali-flavoured online classes:
- Reliable internet, and data package for back-up
- Laptop/Computer, and smartphone for back-up + chargers
- Online platforms such as Zoom, Pear-deck, Google Classroom etc.
- Pedagogy team of 4-5 members
- Technology team of 3-4 members
- Communications team
- Academic team
- Psycho-social team
- WhatsApp Group, Email, Google Sheet for communication and logistical planning
Flavouring Ingredients (masalas)
- Passion and dedication towards education
- Growth mindset
- Willingness to learn
- Time commitment (ability to find work-life balance)
- High team spirit
- Intrusive pets or kids for entertainment
- Discuss and assess the needs of students and the challenges they face.
- Make arrangements for students with special cases (homes with no internet, no laptop, etc.).
- Get the entire faculty to download Zoom app and create a Zoom account (provide help to those who are having difficulties).
- Call for a general group meeting, possibly on WhatsApp, about going way forward with online sessions (hosted by the President/Principal).
- Before starting the meeting:
- Check-in with everyone
- Choose an empathetic moderator to moderate the discussions
- Moderator mentions basic online etiquettes such as: turn off the microphone and turn on only to speak, raise hand virtually to talk, ask questions in the chat-box etc.
- Form teams:
- Pedagogical team: To start planning the process of conducting online classes, by providing online-teaching support to faculty
- Technology team: To ease the process of using new technology for faculty and students, and troubleshoot technological issues
- Academic team: To coordinate and manage online logistics. Ensures messages and information is passed from the planning team to faculty members. Arranges inter/intra-team meetings
- Communication team: To disseminate information and announcements to students via emails and various social media platforms
- Psycho-social team: To support students and faculty members emotionally by creating safe virtual spaces for reflection
In this transition process, we have found that it is crucial to seek help and map out our own individual and institutional strengths and resources. As we are affiliated to Westcliff University, California, they have immensely supported us by training our faculties, providing 20 paid Zoom accounts (with additional features), and continuously providing academic support. Their support gave us more confidence to embark upon this virtual journey. Here’s the process we planned and opted:
- Online Zoom training for all the faculty members and staff on:
- How to use Zoom
- How to make classes engaging
- Zoom features that help make class interactive:
- Screen-sharing for slides presentation, displaying video
- Whiteboard, a virtual whiteboard that can be used simultaneously by both teacher and student – Helpful for drawing graphs and diagrams.
- Break-out rooms for teamwork and group discussions. Faculty can jump from one group to the other
2. Providing extra support to teachers that require additional technological/pedagogical help
3. Emotional Check-in: Online session for faculty members and students who need emotional support and spaces for reflection during distressing times
4. Online Demo class:
- Group faculty members in teams of 4-5, with two teaching assistants and one member from the pedagogical team
- Each faculty member gives a 20-minute long demo class
- Feedback is provided by each team member at the end of the session
5. Informal virtual conversations with students
- Building rapport with the students and checking up on them is very essential during these times.
- You can use various mediums to initiate conversations with your class (students).
- Few ideas that our faculty have initiated:
- Create a WhatsApp group for informal talks
- Create your class’s Facebook page and start #hashtag #trendy #challenges where students post Facebook videos and pictures
- Have Zoom sessions for informal talks (this will also be a good Zoom practice for you and your students before running classes)
6. Demo classes with students
- Faculty members conduct short demo classes with students
- Get feedback from students on what went well and the difficulties that arose
After demo classes with faculty and students, reflect on the feedback to assess required changes, if necessary
7. After making changes, prepare additional instructional manuals and checklists on online etiquette, technological assistance, and preparing/delivering online classes. Distribute the instructional manuals and checklists to students and teachers (make sure to continuously update the manuals and checklists)
Final garnishing before the main course
- Create a Control Room: While the online classes are running, the team in the control room will be ensuring that everything is running smoothly. The control room team will be in charge of logistics. They will be in contact with all the classes and all the teams through messaging and by visiting each class online. If a problem arises, they will route the problem to the concerned individuals or teams (technical/pedagogical/academic) who will then provide information, help and make decisions about how to solve the problem.
- Assign observers to each class to collect feedback on class, like student attendance, technical difficulties, student engagement/interaction, and teaching method and pedagogy incorporated.
- Create online anonymous feedback forms for your students on how the class went.
- Make the teaching assistant your (Faculty’s) Co-host during the session. It will be helpful if something happens to your internet and also keep an eye on students’ responses and concerns.
- Reflect on all the feedback from your students and observers, and incorporate it for the next class. Follow up on students who are struggling or did not show up through email, messaging or calling.
- Learn from your colleagues’ and your own best practices. Keep building on it – and building each other up.
Good luck and get excited about conducting the class you have worked so hard for!
Review and Reflection of the Recipe
Our Output (thus far)
- The overwhelmingly positive response of the students for putting efforts to make online classes happen.
- 90-95% turnover of students in the synchronous online classes.
- 50 faculty members and a total of 60 including Academic/ Tech staff were thoroughly trained in the process to run online classes
- With an average class size of 34 students and the highest class size of 38 students, there was active participation and interactive engagement of students in each class (For e.g. group activities, ice-breaking activities, asking questions, having discussions, students giving online presentations in groups etc.).
- Teachers were quick to adapt to the online tools and methods, and the ongoing evolution.
- Guides, tutorials and other materials to support King’s students and teachers to smoothen the transition.
Through our efforts to plan, design and execute online-learning, we have realized that going online is not simple as it looks – far from it – especially synchronous online teaching. It takes an entire army of dedicated, hard-working, and passionate staff and faculty who are willing to give their 100% and meticulously perfect details to craft a virtual learning space for students that maintains the quality of education and human connection.
The more in-depth we delve into the virtual world, the more we face new challenges and opportunities. And in this process of overcoming challenges, we have been learning from our mistakes, reminding ourselves to be empathetic every day, and exploring new tools and avenues to navigate our uncertain future. We shall continue to rise to the occasion, fail safely, and learn to make sure we stay home and flatten the curve, without compromising on education.
(Please rate and give a review to this recipe if you try it)
We hope you continue learning, sharing and exploring new innovative tools!