I could be anyone around you, but let me specify, I have been a student and now I am a teacher (for adult learners) myself. I have been a son explaining to my parents what I did in school and now I am a parent, trying to understand what my daughter does in school. I am also a researcher who has spent over 2 and a half decades trying to understand (learn about) learning and my raison d’être has been to constantly learn and evolve my own understanding perpetually.
The current pandemic has thrown us all into the deep end with almost no time to anticipate or prepare for this eventuality. We are left with no option but to adapt rapidly to survive. While businesses ramped up their ongoing efforts of work-from-anywhere (WFA) to enable work-from-home (WFH). We feel the impact of the forced migration most strikingly in education. Bound to our homes, we were made to set up the infrastructure for or kids learn-from-home (LFH) journey. Just as our family has experienced the way we conduct our business, we have been forced to experience closely our kids’ schooling (both of which was well hidden) in full view. Some uncomfortable questions will soon emerge from all quarters, with some hasty guidelines being issued both for schools and offices. The topic of personal conduct for parents to be the paragon of behavior, discipline and ethics (the Gen Z/Gen α learn more perceptually than by following instructions) is worthy of another note. I will concentrate on the LFH aspects on this one.
While we are committed to give our children the best education, stretching all our resources, we tend to assume the approach and quality to be the school’s responsibility. LFH has invaded our bedrooms, study rooms or living rooms, we are getting a ring-side view of the black box. I too have been a forced observer to the online classes my kid is attending. Without a doubt, the schools, teachers, support staff, parents (and the students) deserve fitting accolades to ensure continuity in this adversity. A huge round of applause to you all!
I have some observations, drawing on what I witnessed (so far) and my earlier work in this area. Here is my simple online class checklist:
For the Schools/teachers
1. Ensure that the hardware and software meet minimum standard in terms of specifications, compatibility, comfort and ease of usage. For e.g. using USB interfaces are more stable and robust than wireless/3.5 MM jack interfaces, using wired network connection as against wireless, having UPS back-ups for modem etc.
2. Mindfully plan your class to the possible shortest time duration possible.
- Break your class into smaller chunks of 5-7 minutes
- Have contingency plans for regrouping or recovering any challenges
- Keep time to summarize your progress and expectation before and after each session
3. Be (extra) cognizant of the diversity of capability, readiness and motivation of each student and ensure that you have a basis to engage them all.
This happened more naturally in face-to-face (f2f) scenario. There were multiple touch-points, sources and ease of access to gauge the gaps. Now, we need to:
- Keep a look out for drop in participation or lagging assignment submissions or distracted behavior. Always keep a list of students handy to make side notes as you observe them and share feedback to them (both +ve and -ve)
- Allocate short time in each class to have a student (or a group) handle some topic. Share this in advance
- Encourage questions that go beyond – “can you say that again teacher”
4. Keep the class “live” and exciting by using
- Illustrations, animations and imagination
- Collect interesting activities that you can use in the session to re-energise and engage the students (http://www.csun.edu/~hcedu013/onlineactivities.html)
- Use wit and humor liberally
- Identifying unique aspects of each student and connect with them individually at least once a week through email or seeking their thoughts after/before the class (when you are waiting for other to join/leave)
- Keep the chat channel active (only) between you and the class
5. Understand, appreciate and accommodate physical limitations that each student might have in terms of interference free zones, sound/camera/network quality etc
6. Stay energized, hydrated and fit; be regular in your stretches and physical activities
7. Enjoy the experience and share your positivity with your peers and in online forums. See this as an opportunity to gain some critical experience of leveraging technology.
For Parents and guardians
- Keep your interference limited (preferably nil) specially when the classes are live
- Make the child as comfortable (in terms of lighting, seating, noise etc) and give as much physical space as possible
- Comply with the requests made by the school/teachers and clarify (if needed) directly
- Encourage your ward to have discussions on phone with their classmates on topic related to the subjects
- Conduct mock sessions (if you can) over the weekends to help the students appreciate the difference between online and f2f sessions (topics can be of mutual interest)
- Keep a tab on device (screen time) usage beyond the classes and be sensitive to any complaints by the ward about eye irritation, headache, body aches or sleep issues
- Stay positive and reinforce the experience for your child and other parents rather than complaining or reminiscing about the old approach. This is a good opportunity to be digitally savvy and catch up on the digital divide between you and your ward.
For the students
I would rather not add any more things for them to read but if possible, share these good practices with them:
- Plan for the session in advance, ensure that you have all that you need for the class
- Stay hydrated, keep water and some energy boosters handy in case you get tired/sleepy
- Stretch and bend every 10 mins. Stand and attend the sessions where you do not need to take notes or do any activity that needs you to sit
- In the breaks go out in the sun, exercise your eyes
- Be attentive and do not indulge in any parallel activity
One of my cherished crusades has been to integrate use of digital technologies from simple AV content to more sophisticated AI ML systems (like MetaCog Innovations, that I have founded) into basic pedagogy. Please bear that an AI ML system can now “learn” and secure 95+ marks in (every class) school exam by training for 15 weeks (may be lesser) without any intervention from us. May this serve as a wake-up call for all of us and reflect on the efficacy of 15 years (of the most intellectually fertile life stage) that we dedicate in this pursuit.
I hope this (forced) adoption would act as a basis for everyone (including parents) to look deeper into the new education experience to help us realize the value of digital learning. The key is – We do not need to compete with Artificial Intelligence to secure our future but leverage it to ensure that it enriches the efficacy of learning for everyone in the future.