The global Covid-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented change in all walks of life. It has clutched different sectors and overthrown people around the world to a new social and economic crisis. Education is one of them, due to the pandemic around 1.52 billion students stranded at home and over 60.2 million teachers remain out of schools (UN Secretary-General, 2020, March). In a bid to adjust to the crisis and to ensure classes to remain continued to students, the digital classroom has emerged as the most significant option before the academic stakeholders. Following the endorsement from the international body like UNESCO to the national body like the Ministry of HRD, the millions of schools and higher educational institutions have shifted their physical classrooms online to ensure ‘learning never get disrupted’ for the learners amidst the isolation crisis.

India has one of the world’s largest educational sectors. It has over 1.3 million recognized schools including primary, upper primary, secondary, and senior secondary schools (AIES, 2002). Also, it has over 789 universities, 37,204 colleges, and 11,443 stand-alone institutions (UGC, 2017). As per the report of UNESCO, the coronavirus crisis has put over 320 million Indian students into unfortunate adversity.

The country’s endeavor to switching off the offline classroom to digital space with its supportive systems has caused a paradigm shift in the formal education systems. The digital enabling online teaching is democratic and can be accessible even beyond geographical barriers. It edges over the traditional classroom especially in aspects of facilitating home-based learning opportunities for learners in times of the country-wide lockdown catastrophe. It is now playing a crucial role in building fundamental life skills and providing learning experiences to young adolescence at home.

The digital platform is something new for both teachers and students. There had no training intervention to empower teachers with digital skills before or immediately after the hastened nation-wide lockdown. So, teachers who have parallel skills in teaching in the face-to-face classroom are unfortunately crippled in this process of on-going digital shifting. They are now struggling to learn new techno-pedagogies to teach in online classes. They are spending more time to skill up themselves with the required digital mastery in virtual classrooms. However, many teachers are ‘digital immigrants’ who feel awkward with the digital ecosystem of online classes which induced new concerns about the online teaching.

Further, many teachers have expressed deep worry about the effectiveness of the teaching-learning process in digital classes. Meghna Saxena, a teacher from Delhi told Quartz, “kids don’t understand half our activities even in the real classroom. A teacher on a computer screen would hardly make sense to them”. Similarly, Saloni Kumar, a school teacher in Gurugram, Delhi, told that “during the classes, I have no way of knowing who is paying attention and who is not”. While, Navraj Tiwari, Principal of Neel Tara Academy, Sikkim, said “we want to conduct regular online classes but most of our students are from marginal families and they don’t have internet connection”.

The online teaching has different problems and those problems are varied across the different geographical regions of India. The states like Himachal Pradesh (mountainous areas), Rajasthan (sparsely deserted areas), and Madhya Pradesh (forested areas) have poor enabling internet establishments that cause grave concern for the countryside outreach of e-learning. Further, the students from poor economic backgrounds and remote villages in the states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh, etc. have also been crippled with the shifting from schoolrooms to the virtual classrooms.

Further, the Northeast part of India is the most geographical inaccessible with several obstacles varying from lack of development, infrastructure to socio-political unrest. The schools of this region are mostly located in rural areas and do not have the necessary digital infrastructure to equip with the current challenges that emerged in online classes. The educational institutions especially in the different cities of Northeast India have shown an accomplished portrayal of online teaching. For example, Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU), Ri-Bhoi, Meghalaya, has taken several initiatives to teach its students online using its own developed Learning Management System (LMS) and using Zoom app. Similarly, Assam Down Town University (AdtU), Guwahati, Assam has established a connection with its students over virtual platforms amid the crisis.

Notwithstanding, amid this crisis students across large swathes of marginalized urban ghettos and rural areas of Northeast India, are in devoid hope for online education. The parents are mostly daily wage laborers, small farmers, vegetable vendors, and small traders and most of them find it difficult to avail expensive smart gadgets for their children. Besides, internet penetration in this region is also critical as compared to the rest of Indian states. The region (included Assam & other northeastern states) has 38 percent internet penetration against the mainland states Delhi NCT (69%), Kerala (54%), Punjab (49%), and Maharastra (43%), etc. The states like Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur are in critical situations in terms of internet accessibility and digital outreach which raise another disheartening concern about outreaching digital learning amid the Covid-19 crisis.

Nevertheless, the state governments have taken several initiatives to overcome these barriers to suffice the e-ducation to students across the poor and marginal sections of the society. The state like Sikkim is enabling students to access online education using online networking applications like WhatsApp and Zoom. Similarly, the state of Assam is also using individual calls and WhatsApp for sharing e-contents and study-related assignments with students. Besides, in the rural areas of the states like Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, the governments are planning to use radio broadcast and Doordarshan as means to outreach e-ducation to those areas having no internet establishments.

However, the inference from the revisited discourse on online versus face-to-face classes has brought out some intrinsic limitations of online teaching like issues related to instructional designs, students’ online discipline, learning engagement in the virtual classroom, teacher-taught relationships, online assessment, non-cognitive developments of students, and so on. Many questions have also aroused in teachers’ minds, from how to start online classes to make use of available e-resources to creating a supportive learning environment. The focus of the present article is to address all these queries about how to make e-ducation teaching worthwhile in the times of the pandemic despite having a range of challenges and issues.

The performance of inculcating knowledge and instructional materials to the learners in a face-to-face classroom system is what we call teaching. It is a noble profession as we treat where teachers, being the key role players involved in designing and orientating programs for learners’ all-inclusive development. Educators have always been striving to perform their obligations towards teaching against all kinds of turndown situations. Amidst the current cataclysm, teachers may take the following response measures to improvise the teaching in the digital classrooms-

Having an easygoing shifting from offline to online classes

Online classes have been on the rise amidst this home-based learning atmosphere. It stimulates teachers to participate in online teaching in virtual classrooms. Teachers use the internet and various apps to develop digital skills throughout the online course. However, many of them are grappling with the teaching difficulties, and few of them even pondering about how to go for online teaching. In this case, a teacher may think of having two ways, one recorded video-lectures, and other uploading e-contents in the forms of PPTs, word or pdf files, etc. The video lectures may be presented using a video-enabled synchronous or asynchronous streaming depending on the nature and objective of the instructional designs. There have been different online platforms like Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google classroom, and Zoom, etc. where teachers can take online classes. Besides, teachers can also use different social apps like telegram and WhatsApp to share e-contents with their students. However, for teachers who are working in rural schools of economically poorer states, due to the ‘digital divide’ the use of WhatsApp and mobile phones may be proven as effective ways to share learning materials and various study-links with their students.

Setting optimal class size for online teaching

It is a painstaking aspect of online teaching. It has been observed that educational institutions do not put any upper or lower limits on online class size. However, experts have asked stakeholders to limit the class size even for online teaching as we have for offline teaching in the conventional classroom. According to the Economic Survey (2017-18), the country has an average Student-Classroom Ratio (SCR) 30 in the face-to-face classroom teaching. Also, the RTE Act, 2009 mandates Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) 30:1 for primary and 35:1 for upper primary level. However, for the digital classroom, there has no such established guidance. The published researches showed a varying size of online class from small to large depending on the purpose of course designations. According to a research project, a large size online class with 40 or more students’ enrolment is ideal for ‘foundational and factual knowledge acquisition’. On the flip side, a small class size with 15 or even fewer is better ‘to develop higher-order thinking, mastery of complex knowledge, and student skill development’.

Designing online course materials using multiple strategies

The virtual teaching has put new demands from teachers in curriculum reconstruction and teaching content designs. It behests teachers to provide enriched ‘human and non-human resources’ and pertinent ‘animated and unanimated’ study-materials. In the traditional classroom, a teacher acts as an instructor and a guide but this role of the teacher has incredibly changed in online teaching. A teacher is now no longer acting just as an instructor but a content developer and a designer of online curriculums. The teacher needs a good content-communicating skill too in virtual teaching. Here some simple tips a teacher should keep in mind while preparing digital contents including PPTs such as it must have explicit texts and improved contents with detailed facts and explanation, language must be simple and formal and must be well-designed with the use of graphic themes, gaming features, and various templates.

Also, especially when making video-lecture; it should be kept in short; around 30-45 minutes (UNICEF), from introducing the topic to justify the need and main themes presentation to recapitulation at the end. Besides, the teachers should uphold accountability to ensure video and voice qualities or the enrichment of the content before sharing them with students.

Making teaching more interesting to students

Good teaching always requires teachers’ full-engagement in students’ learning through explanations, illustrations, question-answer sessions, or group discussions. However, the question arose about online teaching for its potentiality to uphold students’ interests in the curriculum transactions in the virtual classroom. It depends on both attributes of teachers’ instructional materials and students’ perceived approach towards the class. In online teaching, a teacher must ensure his or her strong presence in the virtual classroom. Also, it is inevitable for teachers to make students feel connected to the classroom lectures. Besides, a teacher must avoid monotonous presentations including repetition of words, use of jargon, and abstracts terminologies while teaching online. Additionally, the abstract concepts must be explained using various analogies and place-based examples to students.

A teacher should also blend his or her lectures with thought-evoking incentives and humor. Facilitating the structured knowledge-based instructions will only encourage spoon-feeding habits and weaken students’ interests in classroom lectures, so, attempts must be taken to make students rational about why they need to listen to the lectures. Teachers should make students feel empowered in the virtual classroom. Besides, a teacher must give space for virtual interactions and provide collaborative learning assignments to students for a meaningful participatory-learning.

Strengthening students’ learning engagement in virtual classes

A question is often asked about the online discipline of students during the on-going discourse on online teaching. To ensure that, teachers may use something called video attendance which is acceptable in many cases where both teachers and learners have access to digital devices and internet connectivity. However, a muted-audio management system, performance- and check-in based attendance are some of the effective ways to check out students’ engagement during lectures. Also, teachers can think of using an ‘attendance-cum feedback’ form daily where students can be asked 3 to 5 questions to answers in brief based on the pertinent lecture. Additionally, to ensure children’s full-engagement, teachers may use other apps and software such as Attendance taker, Fedena, Fekara, TS School, Chalk Attendance, MyClass Attendance, SchoolTool, K12 Attendance, MyAttendance Tracker, SchoolTime, Gibbon, etc.

Making use of existing online resources

No wonder, it is understandable that developing e-contents is not a simple task. Many teachers have difficulties in computer-based preparation of PPT or other verbally-structured contents. They lack skills in developing different online modules too. In this situation, despite worrying about, teachers can have several online content providers from where they can easily access materials and after filtering, the age-specific relevance contents can be shared with their students. The platforms like NCERT YouTube channel, Diksha portal, and Swayam Prabha not only facilitate e-contents but help teachers to have swift access in the time to respond quickly to students’ requirements. Besides, teachers can also take advantage of various non-government e-learning apps such as Byju’s, Vedantu, Toppr, Khan Academy, Unacademy, Udemy, GradeUp, SoloLearn, Adda 247, Jigsaw Academy, etc.

Assisting those who are unresponsive and slow learners in e-classes

It is inevitable for a teacher to ensure learning equally happens to all. In online classes, there is nothing called backbenchers versus frontbenchers, like traditional schoolrooms. However, in online classes, we still have about 10% slow-learners who grasp things at their own pace. Also, many of them even do not understand teachers’ lectures at the first attempt. So, teachers need to ensure the availability of video-lectures online immediately after classes are over. There should be a space for repeating some of the taught topics too or teachers may think of organizing remedial sessions for slow learners. Besides, an ‘institution-based 24×7’ live chat-box must be availed to all learners to clarify doubts and get detailed explanations of their queries from teachers.

Appraising students’ learnings through online tests

This is the aspect of online assessment of students’ learning attainments from a taught lesson. In the traditional classroom, a paper-pencil test is conducted to test students’ learned knowledge in the presence of teachers. However, in the virtual classroom, as teachers are not physically there to ensure invigilation therefore, there is a high chance of copying books or excerpting relevant information from the internet. To avoid such uncertainty and unethical practices, teachers need to change the ways to assess students’ learned knowledge and experiences. Instead of MCQ and short-answer type questions, the focus may be directed to theories- and themes-based queries where an individual learner has no option but to express his/her experience-based creative thoughts and critical thinking on exam papers. Besides, teachers should also have an understanding and collaborative supports from parents to ensure parenting supervision at home during exams.

Ensuring the teacher-learner relationships in online classes

The teacher-student relationship is concretely embedded in the physical classroom that left out to a greater extent in online classes. The online ecosystem ensuring physical distancing but has wreaked human contact and socio-emotional proximity between teachers and students. However, in a bid to develop socio-emotional propinquity, teachers may use some tips such as sharing personal learning-experiences with learners, providing quick learning feedback, and creating a comfort communication aura and boosting learners to share their learning experiences, etc. Besides, the teachers’ responsive behavior and accountability towards learners are also helpful to improvise the teacher-taught relationships in the virtual classroom.

Developing students’ socio-emotional aspects through e-teaching

The critics of online teaching often argue on the overwhelmed emphasis of online teaching on cognitive development and leftover its undue focus on the socio-emotional development of children. Also, they argue that online teaching promotes the ‘banking system of education’ which is the deposition of knowledge-based instructions in children’s minds. In education, we know something called 3-H that is Head-on, Hand-on, and Heart-on. Due to the intrinsic limitation of online teaching, it finds difficult to meet these arguments. However, teachers may use ‘group-based tasks’ and encourage ‘collaborative learning’ to develop students’ social-emotional skills in virtual settings. Besides, the use of various incentives, creating opportunities for play-based activities, listening to students’ feelings, and valuing their opinions may be underscored as plaudits tips for learners’ progressive development.

Establishing home-school online partnerships

As the learners go for online classes sitting at home, so, teachers need to ensure every family with all kinds of supports required for effective delivering course contents. In this case, the role of parents must be prioritized in creating home-based learning environments for students. Both teachers and parents should work together through the ‘home-school online partnerships’ to ensure better learning opportunities, creative experiences, better time management, and safe learning. They should establish ‘spontaneous collaboration’ and ‘hands-on supports’ with parents to regulate online classes for students. Also, teachers should help in better parenting the learners to stay positive, creating a daily routine, avoiding health-risk behaviors, and managing stress in the time of isolation crisis (WHO).

In closing, it can be said that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought a far-reaching change in the way teachers teach in the face-to-face traditional classrooms. Hence, the teachers must collaboratively address all those emerged issues of online teaching. They must try to employ all kinds of possible techno-pedagogies and available resources to ensure effective teaching in online classes.

Nawaz Sarif is a Ph.D. scholar and a UGC fellow at the School of Education, North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong, India. He has completed his master’s degree at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, India. Presently, he works on ‘the development of psychological capital in the young population’. Along with the research, he writes short articles on contemporary issues in Education.  Email: nawazsarif@nehu.ac.in


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