Look around you and you’ll see that the coronavirus pandemic has completely changed the way you live and work. 

With working from home and social distancing becoming the new reality, most industries across the world have gone through an innovative shift. But it’s perhaps the teaching profession that has had to make the biggest shift in its approach.

Without the conventional brick-and-mortar setup of the classrooms and labs, many teachers in schools and universities have been struggling to ensure that they can continue to teach and engage with their students. 

In fact, even though a country like India has seen a sudden boom in digital learning in the past few years, the rate of adoption of online learning methods has been fairly low. 

Until now. 

Now, more than ever, our teachers need to be taught how to teach effectively. 

We at Harappa, as part of the Harappa Habit Hour, decided to conduct a couple of webinars focused only on the teachers of this country, to help understand what their challenges are, and how we could, having been in the business of teaching online, extend to them our learning strategies gathered in the last two years. 

We invited brand specialist Sudeep Chhabra, an experienced online teacher of courses on marketing, and Siddhartha Gupta, CEO of Mercer Mettl, an organization based on creating customized assessment tools, to share their advice and solutions.

The challenges, as it turns out, are along two lines—engagement and assessments. In other words, most worries were about how they can ensure that their students are understanding and learning, and how their learning outcomes can be measured.

What we’ve understood while building courses is that these two are anyway the most difficult skills to master, even for the most experienced teaching professionals. But it’s not impossible.

Let’s first take the question of engagement. The most common questions that came up were about keeping students interested in the topic at hand. The lack of physical proximity between the teacher and the student in an online classroom, or the absence of a blackboard and chalk, requires special kinds of attention to detail. 

For example, Sudeep shared his go-to tools such as the whiteboard and breakout rooms features on Zoom which have helped him ensure that students can digitally follow what is being taught, share their ideas with their peer group, and also have productive discussions in smaller groups.

The second challenge of conducting assessments online has proved to be more complex. 

Can we ensure that academic integrity is maintained? Is it possible to stop students from consulting with each other while the online exam is on? Is there a way to assess design and architecture assessments through online means?

The answer to all these questions is, yes.  Faculty across the world have had to change their mindset when it comes to assessments for their students’ learning outcomes. 

But there are multiple tools and options available in the market. Siddhartha too shared the salient features of the Mettl product, to show how simple it is to create and upload question papers, invigilate during an online test, and grade responses. All thanks to advances in the field of AI and technology.

Here we need to address the basic fear that a large number of faculty have expressed, especially those who have been in the teaching profession for many years, and have now become set in their ways. 

And that is a fear of the unknown in the digital learning space. 

For many, gadgets, the internet and the virtual world have so far been zone for entertainment and relaxation. The prospect of making them their medium of communication has not occurred to them until now, and there is a sense of apprehension and fear.

What if I can’t schedule my Zoom classes properly? How can I teach without seeing the faces of my students looking up to me? What if my students can’t understand something, and they’re not being able to open up about their doubts?

These are all legitimate worries, but can’t or shouldn’t be enough to stop them from realizing the true potential of the medium now available to them.

While it’s true that digital teaching does take away the face-to-face human interaction element of learning, and depends on the bandwidth of connectivity available to the student and the learner, it is the future of learning. All we have to do is help our teachers cross this treacherous bridge over to the other side of lifelong learning.

And we at Harappa, are trying just that. We have lots more in store for our country’s teachers in our upcoming sessions of the Harappa Habit Hour. So stay tuned for more.

Suha Gangopadhyay is a Specialist in the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. A postgraduate from University of Oxford, she wants to contribute to the growth of education studies in India, and dwells in a world where books are almighty.

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