VIRTUAL REALITY-THE NEW NORMAL
“Lights, Action, Camera!”-
Take-1, Take-2, Take-3.
The ‘takes’ were numerous, but eventually the scene did take off. Yes, you guessed right- the ‘online’ classes were no less than a scene from a film being screened for a large audience.
The Pandemic was announced, followed by a lockdown that brought everyone’s life to a halt. Never had one imagined such a scenario, even in their wildest dreams. Schools, shops, companies, factories, you name them and they were all grounded. The speculation was that in a fortnight life would resume to ‘normal’. But, “No!” there was an extremely dramatic climax awaiting; our film- THE VIRTUAL REALITY- had set in. It seemed as though aliens had literally taken control of our world. There was silence all around. They say that there is a lull before a storm and so it was! Well, for how long could one live in disbelief?
If we look back into history, rulers who were invariably successful were those who had a presence of mind; who were practical and who could foresee the consequences of a situation. We at Col. Brown School were just as quick to take action. Perhaps one of the first schools to start the ‘online’ classes. We began on 30th of March 2020, just a week after the lockdown was announced. This was done as we care for our students, and realise the importance of continuing education, irrespective of the format.
Many of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s- an era of the radio, had never visualised that teaching in this manner would become a ‘norm’. The technology pangs were immense but we all held each other’s hand and moved ahead. Honestly, it was a great challenge, but then, we are the ones who instil a ‘never say die’ attitude in our children, how could we do just the opposite?
The ‘work from home’ culture comes naturally to many professions but it does not resonate with the teaching profession, and is far from the pedagogy that we have used for the vast majority of our lives. However, teachers have adapted themselves to this, just for the sake of their students.
Initially we formed ‘WhatsApp’ groups for all the classes and started sending explanations of chapters as well as assignments based on them, but that alone was not so effective. It was then that Zoom was picking up as the most popular App for scheduling meetings. We were quick to embrace the opportunity and within a short span became Zoom pros. As teachers, it allowed us to get back to what we enjoy the most – being in the company of our students.
There was a lot of enthusiasm and we soon learnt the various features it offered. I personally found it ‘user friendly’ and was happy with the way we started conducting classes. For me it’s important to have a face to face interaction with my students, as then I can gauge whether my students are following the lesson or not. Besides, given the situation we had to make it as akin to classroom teaching as possible. So, we started scheduling our meetings as often as we could- morning, afternoon, evening, weekdays and even Sundays! Soon we organised our teaching according to a set schedule. While other schools were still planning how to organise their classes we were way ahead, ensuring that our students didn’t lag behind on the syllabi.
The experience was exhilarating. We were moving with the pace of the modern times, discovering new features and new applications, marching ahead to the best of our abilities. Of course, there were problems too. At times there were network issues. Being at home the students started procrastinating. We started calling up the parents to ensure that the children were regular and did not miss their classes. This kind of routine was now becoming the “new normal” and both the teacher and student started taking it as the ‘done thing’.
As time passed the pandemic seemed to be on an upswing day after day. We all realised that it would not be possible to have a ‘normal’ school for a few more months. We started uploading videos to recreate the classroom effect. Soon we were introduced to the ‘Live-classes, on ‘Flip learn’. The school management organised training sessions to enhance our skills and we learnt how to conduct our live classes from school. Through this we are able to teach from the class and use our boards just as we did in our regular teaching. Each day has been a revelation and we are leaving no stone unturned to teach as effectively as possible.
People feel that it is more comfortable for us teachers to work online, but believe me it is no cake- walk. We put in many more extra hours trying to teach in this manner. Going through assignments online is far more strenuous but we did not give up. It was now time to test the children. Evaluation has to be done regularly to find out whether our students have understood the lessons or not. It was time to learn yet another tool for evaluation. We were trained to create online test papers which was to be attempted within a given time. These tests were successfully conducted and we moved a step forward in all our endeavours.
Studies reveal that the world is at an inflexion point and its common practice to refer to life as pre or post COVID. The impact of the pandemic is so profound that some of the changes we are witnessing today will be here to stay. Online testing for example is one of the practices that was introduced purely on account of the pandemic and brings about a great deal of efficiency in terms of producing the results of the examination. I would imagine that this is something we would consider persisting with even when we’re past the pandemic.
As I mentioned earlier that teaching Online has been a tremendous experience for me. It has strengthened my confidence in technology. That fear in me that I would not be able to understand the functioning of various programmes just flew out of the window. Here was me, in a new avatar as a teacher who is ready to take on new challenges, and I am thoroughly enjoying it at Col. Brown’s !