Overview There have been plenty of discussions in the print and online media that bring forth the advantages and disadvantages of online education, both from the teaching and the learning point of view. In the current scenario of the pandemic, we are not merely discussing and debating it, but are obliged to move right into the thick of it. The problem is that this move has been very sudden and both teachers and students have had to simply plunge headlong into it with most of them unprepared. A lot of difficulties and challenges have come up in understanding how things work since technological literacy is something that is not all-prevalent.
This article is an insight into what are the problems that generally arise during the online teaching & learning process, and the possible mistakes that can be pre-empted with some what-you-need-to-know tips. This insight and the tips is based on an actual online educational class for undergraduate students of History conducted by a College HOD via Zoom so that it may help educationists, especially novices in this process, to learn a few aspects of online educational classes.
Prior preparations and rehearsals As a teacher, just as you prepare lessons in advance for a session in the classroom, so also for online classes. However, you cannot simply set a date and time and hustle everyone to tune in, to your class. What's more, the preparation beforehand does not include just creating a PowerPoint presentation (it is known in short as PPT) and showing it on the screen to the students. You need to interact with them as well, just as you would in the actual classroom. Thus arises the importance of a rehearsal. You could rope in family members, friends, and colleagues with whom to practice the lesson. You can see them through the View Gallery feature and you use the Screen Sharing feature to let everyone see what you are showing. You will realize for yourself how the experience will play out with your students and those with whom you are rehearsing will also give you their useful input. For example, they will inform you about whether or not the audio-visual technical aspects were a problem, whether you were going too fast, whether your diction was clear, whether the lesson held their interest, and so on.
What you should know: As the host conducting the session, you can mute somebody and even remove somebody who is a nuisance. See if you can lock the screen-sharing board so that another person cannot scribble on it through his/her keyboard (yes, there are students who may misbehave in this manner).
Coordinating the class We spoke about problems arising due to technical aspects. This can be a major headache. You see, even if all students do have internet connectivity, they may not be having good bandwidth. Then there is the problem of a student mistakenly clicking some key and inadvertently creating a technical problem that sends her 'out' of the class. So what happens is that students will be popping in and out and a lot of your time will be spent in accepting the join/re-join requests. To avoid all this time-consuming work, appoint a coordinator. This person can be a colleague who is also tuned into the class or one of your students who you can totally trust and also rely on to be adept at it. Decide on and appoint this person beforehand. The coordinator can then manage the entire process of letting in students, quickly dealing with technical problems if any, and taking the attendance as well.
What you should know: Most students will come online with the brand name of their phone. You should request them to join the class with their actual names.
The role of time It is really essential to factor in the time. The first and most obvious is the duration. Decide clearly beforehand how long you would like the lesson to be. Do you want it to be a short one of, say, 40 minutes? Or do you wish to conduct a longer session of an hour or more? However, it is not only this literal time factor that you need to consider. You need to next look at the time in the context of the lesson's content. If you are going to pack in too much information in a short lecture, students get overwhelmed by it. Only for a longer duration does it make sense to teach more.
What you need to know: You should not only focus on fixing the time in terms of the lesson. Time management must include time to interact with them, a key aspect that is referred to next.
Teacher-student interactions A key role played by the teacher in the classroom is interacting with the students, trying to gauge whether they have understood the lesson and also be open to queries. This Q&A session should be taken online too. So what you can do is to ask students questions and encourage them to reply, expressing appreciation for a query that is well-answered.
What you should know: In the case of a small class of students, you can conduct the session at the very end. You have to ensure that everyone unmutes the audio so that you can ask the questions and students can reply. Now, this is difficult in the case of a large class of students of forty or more. In such cases, the better option is to put brief Q&A sessions in-between the lesson, say every 15 minutes or so, and tell the students to type the query or answer to your queries in the chatbox.
The academic lesson Coming to the core of the online class is the subject that you are teaching. There can be a lot of boredom ensuing, just like in an actual classroom! To hold the interest of the students you need to make it really interesting. The most common way to do this is to include animated videos and images, but there are other useful options, too. One is to include a brief clip from a documentary film or even a movie that is related to the subject. Another is to use quotes. You can also suggest a few YouTube videos or share a Word doc with your class beforehand. That way, you are not only communicating facts but are also referring to and interacting with them on what you all have commonly seen. One of the best advice that can be considered: include humour. This injects a light-hearted tone into the online session, lightens up the academic study process and invariable brings smiles to the faces of the students. It should be overall joyful experience.
What you should know: It is important to keep in mind that animation should not be used just for the heck of it, to impress the students. It must make sense in the context of what is taught. Consider the colours and size of what is being displayed as well. Most students will be tuning in through a smartphone and not a large screen Tab or laptop. So you need to reduce the dimensions of the PPT slides. Similarly, when using a map it would be a good idea to highlight the part of it that you are referring to, otherwise, it remains unclear on the small screen of the phone.
The recorded lesson It makes sense to record the entire lesson as it will not only help you to check back and learn something that would help you to improve on the next lesson but also you will be able to confirm which students were there during the online session.
The blackboard option A blackboard is the most useful and primary teaching aid in the classroom. If you have space at home and are able to do so, you can set up one or a White Board or even a fair-sized Notepad that is facing the laptop or smartphone's camera so that you can write on it as you teach. It may give you the same comfort level that you have standing in front of a blackboard in an actual classroom.
Conclusion It is hoped that the insight given through this article will help both novices and experienced online teachers. Even if you do make mistakes - and keep in mind nobody is perfect - you will learn along the way and are sure to become very self-confident as you conduct more and more such classes. You see, conducting an online teaching-learning class is not necessarily a bugbear!
A note for students who are participants in the online classes: Kindly show the same respect for the teacher as you do in the classroom. Don't rudely interrupt or misbehave in any way. Show respect for your classmates as well and avoid making fun of those who are not as technologically savvy as you are. Take the lesson seriously, too, pay attention, and attend the entire session. It is for your education that the teacher has spent hours and days preparing the lesson so that it is compatible with online technology and make it suitably interesting for you.
Both teachers and students are welcome to post their queries related to online classes and share their own experiences of these in the comments' box below.
Vandana is based in India with over 15 years experience as a freelance writer. Writing, no doubt, is her primary passion! Having learned the art of blogging from ISC, Vandana is enjoying the thrills of blogging, taking pleasure in sharing information & getting good pageviews at her various blogs.
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Due to the present virus threat, education has been temporarily ported to the online channels where a few people are experts and experienced so far. But necessity is the mother of inventions and all the gadgets or tools or utilities which are being produced by the people today were invented long back. For those who are new to this area, it is natural that they would be facing the problem of system acquaintance and use of the system in the first place. There are some dummy series books which become useful in the early academic life.
First of all, students should visualise an instructional video through which they could grasp the methodologies to use the interface-zoom application- what is ID, password, how to mute and unmute, how to keep video open to the session so that the teacher can see the face of all the students etc.
Since students are using these platforms for the first time, they are engaged and curious to know about their friend's presence than the concept. They are also distracted by external noises, parents, siblings and lose concentration if the teacher does not keep interacting by calling their names. The name as specified is really important for the host, the teacher, to recognise the students.
Whenever a question is asked by the teacher, there is an option to "raise your hand" which helps in answering as well as not disturbing others through chores answers. Sending the replies through chat can be used in two ways. One is sent to "everyone" and the other to "the teacher" privately. The private option helps in hiding the answers so that peers do not use it just to type the information by copying.
For any class to be run in a smooth manner the internet facility and silence is a must. If this is not achieved at the beginning of the class, the anxiety/ anger starts evoking in the students as they tend to lose the topic which the teacher would have planned. Then the presence of student will only be physically present and mentally absent. Hence, the teacher and student should lookout for the best internet connectivity location to lead them to a successful classroom.