15 Apr 2021 20:58 IST

One year on: Analysing the impact of online teaching

Conventional teaching models are being force-fitted onto online without redesigning programme architecture and curricula

The anniversary of the pandemic-lockdown having gone by, it is perhaps an opportune time to reflect and evaluate the experiences of online teaching-learning (T-L), which started off as a TINA (there is no alternative) response. By and large, the default objective was fulfilled by most institutions. However, what is important is to evaluate and learn from the the experiences of the primary stakeholders — student-customers.

The variables influencing the quality of experience are: (A) Key Success Factors (KSFs) including behavioural and process factors (B) the primary stakeholders — (i) school students (ii) undergraduate (UG) students (iii) postgraduate (PG) students, further divided into those: (i) comfortable with and having access to computers and internet, generally from the middle/higher income groups and (ii) those not having access and not savvy with computers and internet, generally from the lower socio-economic groups.

Behavioural factors

Igniting student interest

In the face-to-face model, a good teacher makes effective use of non-verbal clues and body language of students in classrooms. The absence of which in the online mode puts pressure and intense focus on words, both for the teacher and student. Igniting interest and enthusiasm with words alone is exhausting, and often ineffective.

It appears that teachers are able to kindle the interest of the computer-internet savvy (CIS) school students, however the non-computer savvy students (NCIS) are at a great disadvantage and most have lost out a year of learning. At the UG and PG level, the self-motivated students who are active listeners appear to be agnostic to the mode of learning, whereas the passive students who depend on nudges from classmates and teachers seem to miss out.

Class participation and peer learning

Interactive class discussions that contribute greatly to an individual, and peer learning has declined. The CIS school students are at an advantage over the NCIS counterparts. At the UG and PG levels, the influencing factors are the self-motivation and the teacher’s ability to get students to participate. Evaluation mechanisms for class participation, which is more common at a PG level (especially for case discussions), are a handy tool for increasing class participation.

Joy of Teaching-Learning (T-L)

During the initial months, the novelty of online and the constant efforts of faculty to improve their prowess and students’ joy at not having to attend classes and stay in the comfort of their homes led to all-round satisfaction. Gradually, with online fatigue setting in, the joy and enthusiasm of a live class being conspicuously absent, impaired the joy of learning at all levels.

Process related factors

Pedagogic techniques

The T-L process entails leveraging the social presence through student responses, cognitive presence of faculty and student collaboration, and teaching through facilitating discussions. In this regard, group activities at school level have reduced. At the UG/PG level, traditional pedagogic techniques such as group work, case studies, simulation, role-play are now being conducted online with electronic breakout rooms being invariably used.

The T-L process in schools is still faculty-led, which is understandable. At the UG and PG levels, faculty have increased the student-led asynchronous learning component through pre-reading, case study, project, web resource study, pre-recorded video that ONL is amenable to. Peer to peer, student-faculty, and student-internet interactivity, should ideally be increased in the ONL mode but has not been employed widely as the design of course curriculum has not changed.

Time dimension

Research recommends shorter online sessions to maintain the attention span of students and reduced daily class time to minimise fatigue. Schools have maintained their 35-45 minute class sessions but have taken advantage of the absence of physical activities to reduce the daily online hours without sacrificing content. In UG/PG programmes, subjects that require more hands-on participation such as programming or Excel/tool based sessions tend to run slow, in view of time for screen sharing, and errors resolution.

Demonstration time and hands-on problem solving takes longer. Thus, efforts required for effective online teaching are 50 per cent to 80 per cent higher than in the face-to-face mode. Consequently, the pressure on teachers is considerable, leading to fatigue. This calls for rationalisation of class duration, and revisiting workload computations and existing standards of minimum teacher workloads.

Assessment

As opposed to three or four discrete assessment components for internal evaluation, low stake assessments of higher frequency have been found useful. For example, online quizzes at the end of a class session. This ensures that students are attentive. Besides, if there is one quiz every class or every alternate class, that is a minimum of 30 or maximum of 60 in a semester course. The individual weight-age is not too high to stress out students.

Schools that conduct exams on Google Meet or MS Teams appear to have done it fairly successfully whereas Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are still grappling with the appropriate mode of exam, particularly at the UG level. Software platforms such as Mettl have been tried with limited success. At the PG level, open book exams on Digiexam platform, or in a mode wherein questions are framed so as to make students collect data, do research and test their critical thinking skills have been successfully employed.

Way forward

From the foregoing experiences, it may appear that ONL has considerable challenges to be successful. Dr Sugata Mitra, Professor Emeritus, NIIT University, in his famous TED talk “Hole in the wall’’ had said that kids can teach themselves if they are motivated by curiosity given a computer and associated paraphernalia. Extending this thought process, he has built schools using cloud platforms (five in India and two in the UK) where children from anywhere in the world can participate in the learning labs. He calls this minimally invasive education which is probably the future of learning.

The problems that we are experiencing currently are because Dr Mitra’s fundamental premise of igniting the curiosity of the learner is sadly given short shrift as the conventional model is being force-fitted onto online without redesigning student expectations, programme architecture, curricula, pedagogy, evaluation mechanism, class duration and retraining faculty.

Faculty having already reinvented themselves in the online mode need to constantly upgrade themselves. Educational leaders and regulatory authorities need to work together to overhaul the existing system design to a blended model particularly with respect to class durations, asynchronous learning components, pre-recorded videos, and measurement of faculty workload thereof. This will then not only restore the joy of learning but also create additional teaching capacity and accelerate the process of increasing India’s gross enrolment ratio to 100 per cent at school level and 50 per cent in higher education.

(Dr Suresh Mony is Professor Emeritus and Prof Preeti Ravikiran is Chairperson, School of Science, NMIMS, Bangalore)