26 Aug 2020 19:53 IST

Are teachers all geared up for more online teaching?

The fraternity has been pushed into this new mode, but are they liking the change? Sentiments are mixed

Come September and the higher education sector is ready to plunge into yet another semester teaching online! Given the pandemic had taken the entire academic fraternity by surprise in March and made education transition completely online almost overnight, nobody had time to prepare. But are we all prepared and geared up now?

The adoption of technology-driven education, has long been hoped, and wished for, but no one could have ever anticipated the pace with which it finally occurred. No doubt since the last two decades, the academicians were beginning to warm up to the idea of using blended learning approach in their classrooms. It was proven by many researches that technology integrated teaching led to fostered knowledge construction, better conceptual understanding, and a more meaningful learning for students.

However, research also documented that there had been a general reluctance on the part of academicians to plunge into online mode of teaching for it was perceived to be threatening for various reasons by the teachers — unfamiliarity with the technology-driven teaching methods, the humongous time needed to effectively integrate this new method into the curriculum, and most importantly the teachers’ attitude and beliefs towards changing the mode of knowledge transfer.

Do they like the change?

When the push came to the shove, the teaching fraternity did transition into online teaching. However, the big question is — are they liking this change? Are they all set and ready to embrace online teaching? Their experiences and sentiments will be the key driving factor in determining whether this transition is here to stay or is it a passing phase.

A national level research study conducted by the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Development, at BML Munjal University, asked the university professors to “Describe how you currently feel about online teaching and give reasons why.” The responses were clustered into three categories — positive, neutral and negative. A sentiment analysis was conducted based on the recorded answers.

Thirty-four per cent of the respondents had a positive sentiment towards teaching online. They are mindful of the fact that ed-tech is the future of education and it is here to stay. They are glad that they have adopted the technology-driven learning practices. Responses included looking forward to the “new dimension of learning and want to explore more of this.” Excited about developing content online and getting opportunities to explore novel concepts in their disciplines, they are equally upbeat about sharing their own sessions, joined by the best across the globe. They also are appreciative of the benefits that asynchronous teaching and blended learning has for the students in terms of flexibility in time and pace of learning. This lot is all set and excited to kickstart the new term.

Online is agonising

However, a whopping 42 per cent of the respondents found teaching online to be agonising. One of the respondents said that teaching online “Feel(s) like I am teaching to the walls.” “The senses of sight, sound, touch, smell and personality are missing.” They stated, “Apart from technical glitches, (it is) the face-to-face classroom experience, the human touch, that creates a conducive environment for learning.”

There was sentiment as vehement as stating, “It (online teaching) cannot replace face-to-face teaching just like an online chat with your sweetheart is not the real thing.” Not only did they find the absence of a social element to be a major concern in an online teaching mode, but found teaching online difficult, specifically for quantitative subjects that required the use of a blackboard. They also found the preparation for online classes to be a very time-consuming task. Lack of infrastructure and unstable internet speed and connectivity were other very pertinent factors causing a negative sentiment for online teaching.

There were around 24 per cent respondents who were neutral about teaching online. They felt that given the circumstances, teaching online was the best (only) option. They found an online platform to be a good supplement for teaching but thought that it cannot replace face-to-face teaching. “It is good option for tough times but not a substitute at all”. There were respondents who were unsure of what the student experiences were like – “It’s great as it saves time but not sure about students presence and their understanding.” These set of respondents are, however, open to learn how to teach effectively in an online mode. “If I get trainings on how to use the above applications (various applications to teach effectively in an online platform that were mentioned in the survey), I will feel very confident.”

Exaggerated expectation

These research findings are loud and clear and state – all is not well! There is a general expectation that teachers with a doctorate degree will have expertise in their subjects – and will automatically have the pedagogical knowhow and will be able to teach effectively! And in the current pandemic situation, there has been an exaggerated expectation that the teachers will automatically adapt technology available to them in their educational institutions overnight. After all, online teaching is not dumping classroom content online!

The academic administrators will be failing in their duty if they do not take cognizance of the struggle that the teachers are currently grappling with. The New Education Policy (NEP 2020) has of course dedicated a unit for orchestrating the building of digital infrastructure, creation of digital content and capacity building to ensure preparedness for teaching online wherever teaching physical classrooms is not possible, but is it rather not too soon to count on the outcomes of this unit. The academic administrators need to facilitate the training programmes in effective online teaching for the professors to expedite their learning curve in technology driven pedagogies.

Another very pertinent perspective on the current situation is that pandemic or no pandemic, the wave of digitalisation is coercing businesses to get out of their comfort zone and innovate, and education and teachers are no different. The pandemic has acted like a catalyst because the disruption that has been caused is now defining the new normal. So, the teaching fraternity has no choice but to embrace the change, as adoption of technology was to ultimately happen someday. Better sooner than later!

(The writer is Associate Dean - Academic Operations, School of Management, BML Munjal University.)