By Ananya Guha
A lot has been discussed on online learning, mistaken sometimes for e-learning. This online learning has been necessitated because of the Covid-19 crisis. The idea is to continue with studies and replicate the classroom in some form or the other. E-learning is a more inclusive term including the radio and the television. Mobile and internet learning are only parts of the whole. While some are lauding the efforts of schools and colleges, others say it is not a substitute for classroom learning and the environment it creates. It is not meant to be. Online learning has arisen out of a situation but it can always complement conventional classroom learning. For example, teachers can keep in touch with students in Yahoo or WhatsApp groups by using the text mode of communication.
Technology is a useful handle for learning and comprises what may be called ‘edutainment’. The new buzz word is ‘online learning’, though it is not clear what methods teachers are using in schools or universities. Recording a lecture or delivering one through Zoom or Google plus is another method, although it is a replication of the stereotypical lecture method. The question is: can we use technology for more interactive learning? This implies that perhaps we have failed in attempts at interactive learning in the classroom. The internet is packed with information and the challenge is making the transference to knowledge and wisdom. If teachers are simply asking students to watch YouTube videos, this is not teaching, just as reading out from a Power Point Presentation during a conference is not presentation.
How can teaching in a classroom be made more effective? Effective teaching can be done by intuition and by understanding intuitively the levels of comprehension that exist in a classroom. And the teacher toys with these levels creating awareness and understanding at all levels, proceeding from the simple to the complex, and then doing a detour from the complex to the simple. This makes a holistic vision for the student so that she actually feels, hears or sees. The spoken word must unravel horizons of the imagination for the sensitive student. And young minds are innately sensitive and perceptive.
In online learning the teacher may or may not be visible; the students may or may not be visible. But the challenge would be to use technology to create new models for learning. In addition to traditional lecture, there could be a mix of various methods. The point I am trying to make is that of formatting and using the Moodle for quizzes, group discussion, short essays, etc. for an effective two-way communicative learning. The Moodle is a significant constituent of online and e-learning and the software has to be prepared and kept ready so that it could be used for multi-tasking.
While proceeding with e-learning, we must remember that for e-learning to be more efficacious and comprehensive, the radio, television and podcasts must also be used. This is to enable learners to study in areas where there is weak internet accessibility. When the UGC started its classroom telecasts in the 1980s no one took them seriously. Moreover they were telecast at a time when the students were in colleges or getting ready for or going to classes.
The excitement that is now present in some quarters for online teaching is necessary. While a traditional classroom could be monotonous, technology-induced online learning could make things more exciting and provide adequate support services. All teaching and learning should be technology induced in some measure because it builds support services in a complementary manner. Apart from teaching, administrative support can also be given to students through SMS and mobile alerts by reminding them of deadlines, examination dates, announcing results, etc.
In the traditional classroom even with the teacher’s presence attention cannot be given to every student because of the high student-teacher ratio in our country. Technology through text chats can narrow the divide. If the connectivity is absent or poor in the rural areas, the radio and the television can play an important role, including the DTH channels or Tata Sky services.
It is time to go beyond the ‘chalk and talk’ situation. The internet is a huge repository of information, but we as teachers must choose selectively and adapt it to our pedagogy and teaching repertoire, whether in distant or face-to-face situation. The repertoire must include a strong support service for the student so that education becomes more learner-centric rather than teacher-centric. It will be a collaborative framework where both the teacher and the taught will be active participants. The idea is to create a gamut of support services through technology which is appropriate for all students.
Ananya S Guha is a former Regional Director of the Indira Gandhi National Open university, Shillong.
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