A New Window in Teaching and Learning -Fahmida Mehreen
Education. Learning. Access to information. These are some of the fundamental elements that can no longer be looked upon as insignificant in the twenty-first century. With the aid of modern technology and discoveries, education and learning have reached new heights. The age-old concept of sitting in a class with a blackboard and a teacher taking a class for forty to fifty students in a one-way communication modality is almost redundant. In many cases, classes have become smaller in size, classrooms are aided with modern equipment like computers and projectors instead of just relying on the blackboard, and engaging students in class activities have made classes more participative and productive.
Now, if we take the example of the current situation where the whole world has come to a halt because of a global pandemic caused by a virus named Covid-19 or Coronavirus, we can see that many conventions have changed over the past few months. Most of the schools and colleges have been closed starting from around March 2020 and persisting till date. Nonetheless, the corporeal closure of the institutions does not mean that the teachers and students are laid back. Rather, it appears that teachers and students are more active than in the time when they had classrooms to go to. Now, how is that being possible? The answer to the question is ‘Distance Learning’, also referred to as Distance Education.
Distance learning is a teaching concept where the students and the teachers are remotely linked and do not have to be physically present to take a class or a session. They can be physically separated and yet manage to establish a teacher-student communication system. Widespread access to the internet has made it possible for this system to run. During recent times, even in Bangladesh with all the schools and other educational institutions to remain closed until at least September 2020, most of the educational institutions have adopted distance learning and launched online classes for the students. Starting from kindergarten students to middle school students to university students – all are seen taking part in online classes. Needless to say, this is a new window for our country. Earlier, online classes have been prevalent at the tertiary level of education i.e. at universities. But the global pandemic has obliged the schools and other vocational training institutions to also make effective use of distance learning. Students are expected to take part in classes, do assignments, and move on to the next level without any obstacle. All the different activities like taking classes, receiving assignments and grading students, everything is being done online using different platforms.
Modern applications like Zoom, Google Classroom, Moodle, etc. are playing a key role in managing online classes. Previously, Zoom, which was mostly used for hosting virtual meetings, is now being used for hosting virtual classes. It is one of the most used platforms at the moment. Besides serving the corporate institutions, it is serving the educational institutions at large. Assignments and classwork are being managed using Google Classroom. Exams are being taken and monitored through Moodle. These are some example of available resources. Some institutions have their own customized distance learning platforms that give a holistic solution to the approach. Based on their individual needs and styles, the platforms are designed to cater to the needs most effectively and efficiently.
Now, there are different types of distance learning – distance education via video conferencing, synchronous and asynchronous distance education, open schedule online courses, hybrid distance education, computer-based distance education, fixed time online course, etc. Online class does not necessarily mean a virtual class where a teacher will take a live class and interact with students. There can be pre-recorded sessions, which will be made available to the students for access at a convenient time. There may be online classes where no lecturing is required and all the resources are put up on the platform for the students to explore and deliver their work. The nature of teaching or the way distance education will be implied depends on the requirement of the teachers and the students. For example, the most effective way for taking classes for early years or pre-school students are virtual online classes where the students can see and interact with the teachers because it gives them a sense of physical presence and makes it easy for them to adapt. They can also do different activities with the help of the teachers.
With this new way of teaching and learning in place, it is of utmost importance to acknowledge that teachers all across the world are doing a tremendous job. Despite going through such an unsteady and challenging time, the teachers are working relentlessly, trying to ensure the best outcome for their students. It is also a learning process for the teachers as it may be the first time for many teachers. Taking online classes is not as easy as it may look like. Instead, it is quite the opposite. It drives a lot of anxiety and stress to take classes online because class management and resource delivery require a completely new set of skills. Since everything has gone virtual, there are no fixed working hours for the teachers anymore. They are available to assist whenever the students are in need of something. They also have to work collaboratively in a team with the assistance of the school management.
For availing distance learning, there are some technical prerequisites such as speedy internet connection, a well to do laptop, computer or smartphone, and tech-savvy skills. This is applicable for both teachers and students. Some of the specific advantages of distance learning are that it simply saves commuting time, flexibility and freedom, and easy access. In a pandemic situation, it ensures safety. On the flip side, it comes with some cons. It is of supreme importance to be self-motivated if anyone is to gain from distance learning. That can be a challenge for young learners who easily get distracted, which makes it difficult for the teachers. Ensuring that all students are being able to grasp what is being taught in an online class is not only a laborious work but calls for high judgmental ability. Resources have to be prepared in such a manner that all levels of students can be able to relate and understand. This is particularly important for primary and secondary schools where students with different calibre and mental capacity are taking part. Keeping the sensitivity of their age in mind the teachers have to keenly prepare the lessons.
When it comes to education and learning, there are uncountable things that can be reflected upon because there is no end to learning. What is most important at the moment is to ensure that all children and youth are having sound mental health while experiencing something completely irregular and anomalous. They must not be taking excessive pressure and jeopardize their mental health. Side by side, teachers have to remain calm and composed to ensure that the learning process is not hindered while everyone’s well-being is ensured. In a developing country like Bangladesh where education sector in both public and private units has just started to get exposure to numerous modern techniques, it is highly indispensable to make certain that the new concept of distance learning is not being misused under any circumstances.
To all students who are engaged in distance learning and doing classes even in this tough situation – well done! No matter how good or bad your grades are, you are doing a brilliant job by taking part in this. To all the teachers who are exhausting themselves to keep the wheel of teaching and learning rolling – thank you for your commitment and compromises. What you are doing is simply not just performing your job as a teacher, but it is crisis management.