Monday, 6 December, 2021

Dilemma And Difficulty Of Online Classes

Kushal Pokharel


ONLINE classes increasingly appear as the new normal in the aftermath of COVID-19. With various countries across the world sticking to this method for ensuring students’ learning during lockdown period, online classes have become a dominant trend in the contemporary education scene. However, several challenges have surfaced along the way. While there is already a theoritical question whether or not online classes can accomodate students and teachers with disadvantaged socio-economic background resulting in limited technological access, practical constraints are equally huge. Despite the initial excitement associated with this new found method, the expected outcomes remain elusive.
In our context, various schools and colleges particularly in Kathmandu have started giving momentum to the regular classes through online learning software such as Zoom and Googlemeet. Since the lockdown doesn’t seem to disappear in the near future, educational institutions have decided to go ahead. Universities like TU and KU, among others, have followed the trend. While the intention seems pretty clear, adequate homework before embarking on relatively a new educational journey has been missing. Consequently, the effectiveness of online classes is a matter of grave concern. Not only students even teachers have failed to embrace the basic principles of online learning in the absence of proper orientation and feedback from educational institutions. As a whole, the current practice of online learning is in need of a major overhaul to ensure effectiveness.
One of the relevant issue pertains to tracking students’ performance. During online class, it is tricky to know whether students are really participating in the session. With flexible option of turning their videos off, students often seem to misuse this feature and attend classes without compromising their own comfort. Since students find it extremely difficult to concentrate in virtual learning, measuring students progress is a daunting task. Based on the personal experience of conducting Zoom classes, this author has come to the conclusion that students are least interested to continue their regular classes online. But they look forward to interactive sessions where they can meaningfully participate. Taking class adopting the conventional approach of one way lecture delivery will only add to boredom and anxiety of students. In this sense, the online classes require a different mindset on the part of both educators and learners. More importantly, the educational institutions should have a clarity as to what they really want to accomplish through this method.
Higher level of technical competency and proficiency in addition to academic workload is a prerequisite to make online teaching-learning successful. Additionally, instructors need to work upon individually tailored differentiated instructions for each learners becoming well-versed in the use of technology prior to engaging his/her students in the session. Easier said than done, this is a critical issue in our context. With the education system accustomed to the ‘chalk and talk’ method of teaching, adjusting to the fundamentals of online education is definitely not easy. Even students with limited elearning experience have gone clueless as to making the most of these internet based sessions.
Worrisome is the fact that getting everyone on board to this technology laden learning system is beyond the capacity of a developing nation like Nepal where there is limited access to technology. Thousands of students are still languishing in remote villages in the corona days without knowing anything about the online class. Meanwhile, schools and colleges in these areas are ill-equipped both technologically and from human resource side to embark on the journey of new learning. The question of how universities plan to compensate the learning for those students who are left out of this platform remains unanswered.
Having said that, educators and learners are confronted with a difficult choice of whether or not to use this platform on a sustained basis. Amid growing indication that opening up schools and colleges is less likely anytime soon based on the gravity of situation in the country, continuing this learning platform seems to be the obvious choice for those who have access to internet. Although there are opportunities along with challenges, acclimatising to this form of education requires some quality investment for self-learning, exploration and reflection which will be tedious for all participants. In the absence of physical proximity, making this platform a vibrant one demands creativity and innovation on the part of both teachers and students.
Instead of focusing only on regular class lectures, the internet based learning platform can be utilised as a means of engaging students in extra learnings that eventually help them grow professionally. Sharing inspirational videos with students to improve their public speaking and critical thinking might arouse some interest. This demands relieving teachers from the burden of courseload allowing them to find such interesting and creative learning materials to share with students. Tailoring assignments that demand critical reading on the part of students can be fruitful.

(Pokharel is a social science faculty and a researcher.