Published: 13th January 2021
Virtual classes and why they are working out quite well for students
To keep the students engaged during the pandemic was a huge challenge. The teachers took the help of social media initially and soon after, switched to virtual classrooms to make learning interactive
Shaan, who was just promoted to Class III, did not think even in his wildest dream that the electronic gadget that he used to get only on Sundays or as a reward on weekdays would become an inseparable part of his life. As he joins the live classes or does an assignment, his fingers dance with skill and speed on the Apple iPad, the prized possession he had received on his eighth birthday from his Badabapa.
“COVID-19 altered our lifestyle and we had to radically change our perception of keeping the kid away from gadgets to the maximum extent possible. Now, every morning, I check the network, battery life and most importantly, if my son has logged in to the virtual classroom on his gadget,” says Shaan’s mother, a homemaker.
His father, who works as an engineer, intervenes, “Truly speaking, we are confused. Earlier, there was a constant fear amongst us that too much use of gadgets will drive the kids away from real relations and make them wander around in the virtual world. Now, the virtual world has turned into the new reality that we have no option but to adapt.”
The story is no different for scores of other parents. ‘Home is the first school and school is the second home’, seems apt as the educational institutions have seamlessly moved to remote learning to meet the humongous challenges of COVID-19. The intelligentsia explored means and modes in collaboration with the authorities to keep alive a key focus area that is education. With a bottom-heavy population, a country like India has the most at stake. To keep the students engaged during the pandemic was a huge challenge. The teachers took the help of social media initially and soon after, switched to virtual classrooms to make learning interactive. The living rooms, kid’s rooms, even the bedrooms thus, transformed into e-classrooms.
What is a virtual class?
Taking the prospects of digitalisation one step ahead, video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and so on replaced the brick-and-mortar classroom in no time. The virtual classrooms are nothing but a digital learning environment, basically cloud-based learning solutions that are part of Learning Management Solutions (LMS). It has everything to offer, from whiteboards to screen-sharing options to live discussion options and are accessible on basic smartphone devices.
Virtual class etiquette
Virtual classes desire some minimum etiquette. Both the teachers and learners should keep these points in mind while going live during online classes:
- You must always be in proper attire.
- Be sure you’re having a decent and noise-free background.
- You should always use the mute button when not speaking online.
- Always sit straight, preferably on a chair.
- Do not multitask.
Sasanka S Pattnaik and Joydev Mazumdar | (Pic: Sasanka S Pattnaik and Joydev Mazumdar)
Virtual class challenges
With advanced features, virtual classes also bring a few challenges. No doubt the advanced technology eased the process of dissemination of education. However, there are some psycho-social challenges apart from technical ones that hound teachers as well as students to a large extent.
- Virtual classrooms have a severe limitation like nil eye contact, one of the most critical features of any communication process.
- Since virtual classrooms are not designed to teach through an interactive and entertaining mode, children quickly lose interest in studies. In the long run, it is not a viable option for teaching.
- Interacting with teachers or peers in a virtual classroom creates a digital divide. Not all children are equally comfortable or equipped with the skills to interact virtually.
- Further, power cuts, poor net connectivity, presence of other family members and background noise from the child or teachers' house may inhibit or distract him/her from interacting or asking questions in a virtual class.
- The teachers would not know whether the student is attending the course or engaged in some other activities until s/he enquires about it by calling the student.
- The feeling of being engaged is lost in the absence of reciprocal communication, either verbally or nonverbally, on a real-time basis on a virtual platform.
- Safety is another prime concern for parents these days. There is always a chance of a kid being caught in the vortex of sites which are harmful.
Ramendra Kumar, the internationally acclaimed children’s writer says, “During COVID times the kind of burden that is being put on the kids is mind-numbing. Apart from a host of on-line classes, they are being forced to attend sessions which teach them computers, design, problem-solving et al — any course which would give them the much-needed competitive edge! And with the constant presence of the parents, the pressure is even more. The parents should realise this and make use of these rare moments not just to enhance the learning of the children but to connect with them through love and empathy.
Dr RK Biswal, Assistant Professor (Psychology), NIT, Rourkela and a familiar name in the field of Child Psychology has been busy counselling a number of anxious parents. “Kids these days are not new to devices or gadgets and their (ab)uses. However, playing with gadgets and learning with gadgets are two different things. Prolonged exposures to screens to attend class and submitting assignments have adverse effects on the body, eyes, muscles and sleep. The current situation of online classes has made them more vulnerable and at risk of developing several psychosomatic illnesses originating from fatigue,” he emphasises.
On the challenges that the students have to brave to return to the classroom environment after normalcy, Dr Biswal opines, “Schools are meant to impart teaching, and it's a great place for socialisation and personal development. The process of going to school and meeting friends itself is a relaxing experience for many as they get some time to play and engage in physical activities like running, cycling and physical sports. Hence, it would not be that difficult for kids and children to go back to school once everything becomes normal.”
(Sasanka S Pattnaik is a PR Professional in Maharatna Steel PSU and Joydev Mazumdar is a Technology Content Writer in a leading software company)