CHENNAI: Written homework and tests have been replaced by Google forms; physical classes have switched to Zoom conferences and Flipgrid, visual aids and virtual assessments have substituted the blackboard. The lockdown has made several schools in the city switch from traditional classrooms to cloud-based platforms — pushing educational institutions to explore new trajectories, rethink education models and make learning meaningful, even during such unprecedented times.
While a majority of the Internet world is still on the laugh-loop — about a meme on how Isaac Newton’s work on calculus, optics and gravity was a result of him staying put at home after the University of Cambridge closed down due to the Bubonic Plague in 1665 — students and teachers have instead decided to take it as a lesson from history and tap on the learning curve presented by the pandemic.
“It was an unfortunate moment when schools closed and the lockdown was put in effect. The teachers were soon asked to explore virtual classes. Though initially there were some technical/procedural glitches, it was overcome by the cooperation of students, who were collaboratively supporting the teacher,” shares Ramasubramaniiyan N, Physics teacher for classes 11 and 12 at HLC International School, Sholinganallur, Chennai.
“We, as an IB school, have been using online platforms such as Google Classroom, Padlet and Flipgrid for teaching and learning purposes. I have used online platforms for assessment which helped in keeping plagiarism at bay,” says Joanna Shalom, an English Literature teacher at HUS International, Hyderabad.
The debate over the pros and cons of social media and cross-platform messaging services has been put to rest for the time being. Several schools in the city have begun creating class- and subject-specific WhatsApp chat groups to share revision question papers, discuss lessons and whatnot.
“Our school has not started online classes yet. Instead, we’ve been receiving two sets of revision question papers through WhatsApp — one in the morning and one in the evening. We’re allotted an hour to complete them and update them on the WhatsApp group created for our class,” shares Shomik Sahu, a class 10 student of Velammal Vidyalaya, Mel Ayanambakkam.
At Narayana E-Techno School, Arumbakkam, students from class 6 onwards have video sessions. Each class is intimated about the schedule on separate WhatsApp groups every day. “I’ve been attending online classes for the past two weeks. The timetable is shared the previous evening on the WhatsApp group created for that particular class. We log in through our respective IDs on our parents’ phones or tabs. Each subject goes on for 40 minutes and there’s a break after every session. We have classes from 9 am to 12 pm and we break for lunch. It resumes from 2 pm and goes on till 4 pm,” shares Sugitha S, a class 10 student from the school.
After every session, the students are given time to get their doubts clarified. “Information regarding homework and assignments are sent to parents to ensure we’re monitored at home. I prefer this to the regular school routine and enjoy the undivided attention. Except for network problems, the classes go on smoothly. Attendance is mandatory and one teacher is assigned for every session to monitor the online presence of all students,” she adds.
Arav A, a class 5 student from HLC says that these online sessions are comfortable. “Though attention span is usually not so good while studying at home, I ensure that I am not disturbed by what happens around me. I get more free time with these classes as compared to regular school days because I can wake up late, and don’t have a time limit for meals!” he says.
Work in progress
While this has opened new doors, teachers and students say that it will be a while before they settle down with the digital format to become a “convenient system”.Discussing the challenges involved in explaining concept-oriented subjects via online classes, teachers at HLC International School opine that the difficulty level varies depending on the topic and learners’ profile. For instance, few learners might need the physical presence of the facilitator to be in a receptive mode, but others might be comfortable with virtual learning. In such cases, the teachers need to address both types of learners with visually engaging and interactive sessions.
For Gomathy, a Math teacher at HLC, nothing beats a classroom session — with its ambience, presence of children and their enthusiasm. “I use a board at my home for the children to see. Sometimes, the children are not able to voice out their doubts properly and it takes a longer time for them to understand,” she says. Abishek, science facilitator at HLC says that initially it might feel like a slightly strange task to deliver concepts virtually. “However, teachers are one of the best at adapting to different and difficult situations. We are learning to be more clear-cut in our instructions and over-simplifying some of the concepts for students to understand on a virtual medium,” he says.
From following up on homework, sharing regular feedback with learners and planning for upcoming sessions to using visually engaging presentations and dabbling with online resources and tools — facilitators have been bringing in their A-game to the virtual classroom. “Apart from presentations, teachers are now looking at keeping children engaged both during and after the sessions in many ways. On-the-spot small quizzes/games, use of pictures and videos for a unique visual experience, movies/documentaries for extended watching, are all forms of engagement being experimented on,” shares Abishek.
The other side
For many, turning to virtual tools has been long overdue, but for some, the new system has strained their education process. Adhithya Viswanathan, a class 9 student says, “We use the Zoom app for online classes. I don’t think they are very productive. While studying subjects like English or Math, the concepts are not easily understood in an online class. Also, it is easy to get distracted at home. I have to keep focusing on the laptop or phone to keep track of what is going on. This is why I think that physical classrooms are better than online classes.”
Abhinav Sivakumar, a class 9 student, concurs. “We have been taking online classes for the last two weeks. Since we don’t have a proper timetable, the school schedules the online classes randomly. Because of this, I don’t know what to study and what not to. The classes are zero per cent productive. To top it all, we have notes and internal assessments that are piling up too. Online classes may be our only option during this crisis, but I prefer physical classrooms any day,” he says.
The way forward
The current phase might seem overwhelming and confusing for students, but facilitators assure they are doing their best to knit glimmers of respite by integrating fun educational technologies like Kialo (for debates) and Kahoot (for quizzes), among others. Channelling what one otherwise does in a physical classroom into a digital space can be a challenge, especially amid a pandemic. But, a ‘panic-gogy’ (Panic+pedagogy) — a term that is becoming widely popular in the US — to help young learners adapt themselves with online learning while understanding their limitations, is perhaps the way forward.