04 Jan 2021 20:03 IST

Teachers can’t wait to get back to classroom learning

Learning tough subjects and peer group learning in classrooms and outside cannot be replicated online

Colleges and universities across the country are continuing to devise new methods to operate in the Covid-19 pandemic situation. The academic community is still grappling with subjects, which are still complicated to teach in an online environment. Efforts are also on to reskill the professors and lecturers themselves so that they enhance their teaching abilities.

 

 

Tulsi Jayakumar, Economics Professor, SPJIMR, Mumbai

 

 

Professor of Economics at the S P Jain Institute of Management and Research in Mumbai, Tulsi Jayakumar, says that certain subjects, which need field learning don’t lend themselves well to online learning. Management courses, which require using quantitative methods, are also difficult to teach on an online platform. However, professors have been using multiple tools, besides conducting additional sessions to facilitate learning. The learning curve for both students and the facilitators has been steep, and slowly B-schools are returning to the original teaching sessions to prevent online fatigue and the burden of studies, she said

Sharing a personal experience, Jayakumar says she has joined an online yoga class to facilitate her post Covid-19 recovery. She states that mentally accepting the new normal and opening oneself up to the learning experience is critical and crucial. Online courses have emerged as the best solution, she said.

She added that management professors have attended several webinars to enhance their online skills. Internal faculty development programmes have also been conducted for the professors. It is somewhat like adding new skills.

Students' understanding

Prof BJ Rao, who is the Dean (Faculty) at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Tirupati,

 

 

Prof BJ Rao, who is the Dean (Faculty) at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Tirupati, and holding the Chair of Biology at the national institute, said that the online teaching and learning is complicated, and it has to be done thoughtfully. Lesser academic content must be passed on to students at a slower pace. But at the same time the faculty members must also be checking with the students about their understanding of the subject. Frequent feedback from the students is required.

The online education process is complicated as the teachers can teach but how much matter is grasped by the students is not certain. Therefore, in an online environment, learning must be slower. Over and above these challenges, there are technology issues such as poor audio and video quality and connectivity issues; all together this is a complicated area and professors must be acutely aware of it, says Rao.

He points out that among the subjects, mathematics is most difficult to teach as it requires a lot of writing on the board. It means two devices are required, one for video and another for writing, which can be a technology challenge. While teaching a mathematical equation, every step has to be derived and conveyed. In biology a step can be skipped and still the student can still understand it later. But while teaching mathematics the students have to understand each and every step. Every step has to be written and explained on a board. Integral and complex mathematics don't easily yield to online teaching.

Dr Rao also says that online teaching also has its positive aspects as more students and teachers engagement can happen and both cannot give excuses for not attending certain academic sessions. Online makes the whole process more participatory, “When you carry out online sessions everybody is on the same page. In a physical meeting there is a hierarchy but in a virtual meeting there is no hierarchy. Everybody is a participant, ” he said.

“But on the other hand, slow learners may not be at a disadvantage. There is no value judgement on them. They are good students who learn eventually and teachers must be aware of it,” Dr Rao explains.

Tech challenges

 

 

Sulakshna Rathod, Faculty Head, Centre for Educational Technology, Mumbai Educational Trust

 

 

Sulakshna Rathod, faculty head at the Centre for Educational Technology at Mumbai Educational Trust (MET) observes that when the online teaching on account of the pandemic started, college professors in some colleges who were between 40 and 45 could easily adapt to the technological challenges but those above 45 had minimal technological experience. They had to get themselves reskilled in order to deliver a lecture using a laptop and a PPT.

Most of the colleges are also trying to cut down on certain theoretical sections of curriculum or where they think that the students can cope with certain sections on their own, says Rathod.

In spite of over nine months of online learning happening across the country with students from class one to postgraduate engineering glued in front of their laptops or tablet computers, there are still diehard supporters of old brick and mortar face to face teaching, who believe that Covid-19 will be around for some time therefore universities must work around the pandemic, maintain physical distancing and bring back face to face learning.

Received wisdom

 

Dr Ajay Dandekar, Director (School of Humanities and Social Sciences), Shiv Nadar University

 

 

Dr Ajay Dandekar, Director (School of Humanities and Social Sciences), Shiv Nadar University, says that there is a received wisdom, which just cannot be replicated online. Plus a university is not just about face-to-face teaching. Students learn by interacting and debating with other students. The peer group learning in the classroom and outside cannot be replicated in an online medium. Online teaching is at best a supplementary.

He explains that the pedagogy of face-to-face teaching is drastically different from online teaching. In fact, both are two very different pedagogies. Indian universities are designed for physical and not online learning teaching and learning. Even the Indira Gandhi National Open University has a classroom teaching module.

The online education is a new and a forced experience for the students and professors.

Dandekar says that technical subjects, which require labs, cannot be replicated online fruitfully. Any subject in higher education whether it is humanities, engineering or management, can not be studied online fully. In an online mode, teachers can only impart 35 to 40 per cent of their knowledge. After a point a wall gets created between the students and the teachers due to the distance between the two, which cannot be bridged.

Therefore, universities will have to live with Covid-19 and devise ways to impart classroom education without compromising on safety. Face-to-face teaching will have to be again reinstalled at the very centre of the universities, says Dandekar.

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