We, King’s College, have recently started synchronous online teaching amidst the global Covid-19 pandemic. On average, 20 online classes run simultaneously each day, five days a week, from 6:30 am to 11:00 am. The average class has 34 students, with the highest number of students in a single class being 38. In each online class the professor is accompanied by a teaching assistant and an observer. While the teaching assistant helps the professor to coordinate with students, the observer keeps notes such as: ‘What went well’ and ‘Even better if’. Likewise, an Edtech team and the Academic team are always on standby if anything goes wrong. We are using ZOOM as our primary tool for synchronous teaching, and are aided by Moodle-based Learning Management System and other supportive tools like Google Slides, Microsoft Powerpoint, Pear Deck, Google Jamboard etc., to ensure students have a rich learning experience even with online learning.
This was made possible after over two weeks of rigorous and relentless preparation. Our preparation included the formation of an Online Pedagogy Team, EdtechTeam, Academic Team and psycho-social team, made possible by our staff members coming together to support our online teaching mission. We explored various online tools and conducted rigorous testing by running Demo classes. Over 60 full time and visiting faculty members and staff took part in online training sessions that equipped them with the how-to on using online tools and methods of teaching online. The faculty members conducted Demo classes before the actual class. Our Online Pedagogy team prepared and shared manuals and guidelines for both teachers and students. Before the classes began, we conducted informal online interactions with students to familiarise them with the online platform, and understand where they were coming from and suggestions they might have. After many hours of brainstorming, discussions, planning and preparation, the online-classes are finally up and running. We are still closely observing the classes to learn and improve from our experiences and setbacks as they come.
Having been closely involved in this transitional process, here are a few things I learned from my own and other fellow teachers’ experience about online teaching — especially in this crisis situation, thus far:
Relationship with students comes first: Whether it is onsite or online teaching, students need to feel welcome, heard and cared for. Relationships and connections with students are even more important in this situation. Being empathetic to your students and their situations, hearing them and making yourself vulnerable to them can make them open to learning. After they feel comfortable with us, we can begin formal teaching.
Be yourself, your identity as a teacher remains the same: Though the mode and medium of teaching have changed, you as a teacher have not. If you were an assertive teacher in a physical classroom, be assertive online too. If you believe you are a guardian to your student onsite, be a guardian online too. Your teaching approaches surely need some modification, but a forceful change in your identity and personality might alienate your students, and make both parties uncomfortable.
Technology integration and adaptation are challenging for both sides: In a country and education system like ours, technology has been a supportive tool and aided day-to-day classroom teaching. However, we were and are still far from complete integration of technology in our pedagogy. Transitioning towards full-fledged technology-based teaching & learning is a mammoth task, and therefore rarely addressed. As it is a big shift for both teachers and students, we have to accept that there will be mistakes, and take the journey slowly by following failing-and-learning cycles.
Online and onsite teaching are different, they are! – It is quite obvious. The same methods and approaches to onsite teaching, most likely, will not work with online teaching. Even the synchronous learning method can’t replicate the same effect of being in a physical classroom. You can see them smile, you can see them nod, you can see them chatting and laughing, yet the connection is virtual. Online interaction and engagement is possible while teaching, yet differences will be felt and need to be accounted for, so we can find possibilities for growth. Pear Deck, Google Jamboard, ZOOM’s breakout room, Facebook groups are some tools and possibilities to ensure sustained engagement and connection with the students. We should continue to explore further possibilities for classroom management, student engagement, and instructional design for online teaching.
Not just during, but before and after classroom interaction matters: This is more relevant in our current situation of crisis, but in online teaching, since one already feels distant to one’s students, maintaining a connection with them and encouraging discussions before and after the class can play a role in enhancing their learning experience for the better. This may encourage students to reach out more and stay in touch. After all, in online teaching, we don’t have desks or chambers where students can visit and ask questions, so why not make a virtual one that serves the same purpose, and stay connected.
Online teaching territory is quite a new realm for me, King’s College and many Educators (and Educational institutions) in Nepal. Same must be the case in different parts of the world where Corona forced us to find an alternative teaching method. Many of us were not ready-at-all or partly ready to switch to online teaching. Those of us who weren’t ready must accept, it is new territory! It is a new playground, in fact, an entirely new sport. And like any sport, we can only get better at it through practice, observing others play, supporting within the team, learning from the other players, listening to the coach and by getting inspirations from those who have been playing it well. As an individual player perhaps we should keep practising, experimenting, falling and raising back and continue playing in the real ground closely observing ourselves – our mistakes, shortcomings and achievements.
To be continued……(Because I am also playing this sport for the first time; observing, reflecting and learning continuously)