Dr Anju Kalluvelil Janardhanan, a doctorate and an experienced higher education academic, is currently working as a Lecturer with Crown Institute of Higher Education, North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Rendering her expertise in the field of commerce and finance, she has taught subjects including Accounting, Finance, Management, Statistics, Business, Research, Ethics and Corporate Governance achieving successful outcomes for talented young minds. She has successfully embedded activities, and resources into her professional practice both in India and Australia, which enhance the student learning experience. Her research articles have received numerous best paper awards and have been published in peer-reviewed journals of high repute.
All those who have been teaching in educational institutions would have never thought that a time would come when a ‘Virus’ will transform their teaching-learning experience to an extent beyond their imaginations. Yes! I am talking about the call for Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT). Let us not get this mixed up with the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). That is different from virtual teaching due to threat of COVID-19. There is so much to do in so less time. That is exactly what happens when we face a crisis. Isn’t it?
Each of us may have a way of dealing with it. But we should remember that our approach and perspective matters in this wobbly circumstance. It will leave a long-lasting impact on andragogical practices in the ‘Before Corona After Corona’ (BC – AC) era. A lot of discussions about reimagining lecture from social distancing – its success and failure are taking rounds as I write this. I have been doing ERT for a few months now. When I interacted with my peers working overseas, I could relate to the dilemma that they are currently going through before beginning their ERT journey. To reach out to the larger teaching fraternity, I am sharing what worked well with me.
Mindset is everything. I worked on it first. Then everything else got sorted.
Initially, I was ambiguous, and umpteen concerns popped up in my mind. Where do I begin? How do I teach efficiently? Am I going to do it right? I had a lot of questions, primarily because I teach quantitative courses for higher education. Then I changed the way I look at things. Trust me, it made a difference.
At this hour, my students need me to support them. I wore the mentor hat. I tried to set realistic goals in my virtual sessions because I was aware that what I could achieve in a face to face session cannot be accomplished in a remote learning environment. I stopped worrying about things which are not in my control. I approached each session with a clear, confident and positive mindset. Eventually, the student participation increased as they got used to my virtual delivery style and the online platform. They understood that I was trying to enhance their learning experience with my best efforts in delivering the content and put it across to them to achieve the learning outcomes of the unit successfully. So, only a teacher with a positive mindset can transmit the same to the students and set the stage ready for ERT.
Re-design the sessions. Master the delivery tool. Life becomes a lot simpler.
The self-realisation that the curriculum was not designed for the online environment made a beneficial impact while I prepared the sessions. I stepped into the shoes of my students and re-framed the activities to suit their remote environment while retaining the same curriculum. The session plan was revised, keeping in mind that the attention span of students in a virtual space is different. Also, I cannot monitor them entirely as in a face to face lecture. Another challenge was with the usage of the video-conferencing tool. It was new to me. I spent time studying and exploring it through tutorial videos so that I can use it to conduct my sessions effectively. I held trial meetings with my friends and family members to familiarise the features of the tool and make necessary modification in the settings before conducting my first online session. I aimed at preventing the risk of any untoward event during my virtual teaching, where a student takes control of the tool over me to interrupt my session. Moreover, awareness of features like breakout rooms, chat, raise a hand, screen sharing, video/audio settings etc. helps to design activities in a better way and thus enhance the student engagement.
Prepare for the class. But remember, participation is more important than presentation.
No one needs to tell a teacher how to prepare for a class. Right? They plan and prepare meticulously for days to take a lecture. They know how to dispense knowledge through concise and meaningful sessions for their students. The challenge in ERT is how to encourage class participation. In a virtual classroom, some students may feel left out.
Before beginning the session, I socialise with my students. I would like to know whether they are dealing well with this pandemic. If any student was absent for the previous session, I enquire them the reason. This is practically not feasible when the class sizes are in hundreds, and you have a one-hour lecture. But it is always good to express our care and concern as it helps to develop a strong teacher-student bond.
After socialising and taking attendance, the agenda of the session is shared. So, the students have a mind map of the topic, activities, and timings of the break. During my presentation, I ask them questions, encourage discussions, clear their doubts, appreciate their participation, and express my concern if they do not follow the class protocol. At the end of the session, I summarise the main points, remind them about upcoming assignments and announce the topic for the next session. I also found it a good practice to take feedback from my students before the session ends, so that I could work on improving the shortcomings in the next one.
Discuss with colleagues. Invest time in professional development. It matters.
The paradigm shift from traditional teaching to ERT is an area which has not been explored much. Educators all over the world are deliberating on challenges of ERT and online assessment integrity due to novel coronavirus outbreak. I am not an online teaching expert. Hence, I am open to learning new techniques by attending webinars, participating in discussion forums, sharing my experience, and reading resources to improve my ERT practice. One of the most rewarding aspects of my work has been the interaction with a superb group of colleagues and friends in the teaching fraternity. Often during our virtual discussions, I gain insights from their experience, which strengthen my thoughts, and creates a positive vibe. Remember, our work environment influences our work experience. Choose it wisely.
Maintain a work-life balance. Unplug and show some self-care.
Work seems to be never-ending when working from home. Do you think so? Then alert yourself. You are experiencing burnout. Teaching remotely is a new concept. Everyone needs some time to adjust and adapt. ERT may offer greater flexibility but venturing into academic cyberspace suddenly can be too demanding. Therefore, little planning comes handy to ensure work-life balance. Start planning from setting up an ergonomic workspace with fewer distractions, maintaining work timings, wearing formal attire and time away from household chores. Reminders and planners are helpful aids so that you do not miss any work tasks. Do your research, plan your methods, and then take the leap. You have to create a work environment at home. Else, teaching from home will become a nightmare. Though it is essential to communicate regularly with your colleagues and students in a remote environment, inform them the best way and time to contact you.
Working from home does not mean that you are available all the time. As individuals or parents, we have additional responsibilities and challenges too. Some of us have to support our children who are learning from home or keep them engaged as care facilities are not functioning or help our working from the home spouse or find time to complete the household chores or giving attention to a sick person. So, it is important to organise our day with sufficient breaks and activities that help us to relax and rejuvenate. Different people have different ways of caring for themselves, which is fine. All we need to focus on is that our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being is not compromised at any point.
We teach because we love to learn and share our knowledge. We never gave up even when we faced challenges that seem impossible. We believe that our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything. So, let us sustain to enrich our ERT experiences to make these hard times more pleasant because together, we can!
Dr Anju Kalluvelil Janardhanan is writing in a personal capacity. She works as a Lecturer with Crown Institute of Higher Education, North Sydney, NSW. Her views do not represent her employer.