he coronavirus pandemic has forced the education sector worldwide to go with the online learning process. Synchronous classes remained the only choice to minimize the effects of the pandemic on education. In Pakistan, the Universities are closed due to lockdown, and amid this critical situation. The Higher Education Commission(HEC) is also fighting tooth and nail to find viable and practicable solutions to this dilemma. Pakistan being a developing country, could turn the dream of online classes into reality? Are the universities capable enough to conduct online classes without compromising the standard of education? SCIENTIA PAKISTAN magazine has recently approached Dr. Muhammad Mustafa, Assistant Professor at School of Life Sciences, Forman Christain College University, and asked these questions.
Dr. Mustafa is a MS and Ph.D. from Yonsei University, College of Medicine, Seoul South Korea, and has 15 years of teaching experience in different institutions of Lahore, Pakistan. He has 5 years of research experience in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Punjab and has been conducting undergraduate and postgraduate classes in the field of life sciences at FCCU since June 2016. Dr. Mustafa has also been supervising MPhil research projects since June 2016. He has Conducted numerous research talks in national and international universities and promoted a love of science through the platform of Khwarizmi Science Society Pakistan. He is known for writing articles, published in national newspapers and magazines about complex scientific phenomena in a reader-friendly way for general audiences.
Here are some excerpts of his recent conversation with our team member Kaleem Ullah, a former lecturer of Sargodha University.
An online instructor cannot gauge the mood, involvement and engagement level of his/ her students the way he/she can in a traditional lecture-based classroom. How are you dealing with this problem?
Dr. Mustafa; Well, it is right that the online instructor can’t gauge the moods and moral of the engagement of his/ her student, as compared to the traditional way of the classroom where the students are physically present. In a traditional classroom, instructors can quickly figure out whether he is delivering and communicating the knowledge well or not. In online classes, the best way to help your students to stay motivated and listen to you is to make your lecture slides interesting and in a more innovative way. You need to engage them in different activities. They should expect from you that sooner or later, you will be asking something related to the class. For example, to open up some internet resources, or to cross-check some statements on google, or directly engaging them in simple activities.
This is a kind of way I am learning and evolving in the meanwhile; I used to ask and encourage them to create questions. In addition to this, the teachers’ experience is something that will help to imagine that he is in touch with the students or not. It also depends on the modes of lectures you are delivering. If you are dealing with recorded lectures, you need to speak ambiguously and will have to explain in a stair-way method. In that way, it’s the responsibility of the teacher to predict questions that might be there during his/her lecture and address them according to the learning objective of the topic. If you are dealing with online classes in real-time, and you have the luxury to get questions from the students right away to steer the lecture in a better way. But we don’t have that much-advanced internet access in Pakistan, so usually teachers depend on the recorded lectures and other resources.
Summing up, a lot of innovations are required for online classes where students could stay motivated in close association with the contents. When you are in real-time class, you do have the option of creating different tasks and asking them to respond to specific questions. With the help of question-answer sessions and letting students speak in the class help them to feel engaged and connected. The whiteboard, projector and your presence and body language all contribute to creating a strong student’s engaging environment. All of these can be replaced with alternative means in online classrooms.
In Pakistan, most educators aren’t expertly trained to handle the technical details of an online class, and therefore students are complaining hard. We can not train teachers in a short time, so how can we improve the standard of online learning?
Dr. Mustafa; This is a significant question, what are the things we need to look at when we want to train teachers. Teachers are supposed to prepare for teaching, but in the case of online learning, around 50% of the training is required to let the teacher know to use advanced modes of technologies. For example, how to use the internet and different software? How to deal with the recorded lectures and how to add, put together, and trim the videos in an excellent presentable manner? It might go more comfortable for one person, but at the same time would be disastrous for the other who is unfamiliar with the technology. It is demotivating for many good teachers and I know as a teacher most of us believe that we don’t need to learn anymore which affects our evolution as online teachers a lot.
The next is understanding about the student’s perspective. An online teacher should know what are the expectations of his/her student and what are the more efficient means of sharing data and knowledge with them. A well-planned question-answer session works like magic and remembers many students don’t like to show up for questions. I suggest letting your students ask questions in different ways, first, they can ask it over the internet during the live session, if not encourage them to write their questions in a text box so you can read and answer them in a supportive way.
Furthermore, the most essential thing in online teaching is the online method of assessment of how to judge the performance of your students. Since they can use all the resources to answer the question, therefore the assessment activities are quite different from the traditional mid-term/final term examinations. We need to educate the online instructors on how to judge the performance of their students, most of the methods are available and can be learned using the internet. There will be no midterm examinations and no final term exams. The assessment methods in online teaching should be small and unique to each topic. This method is divided into the following steps.
Teachers are supposed to assign things to the students in a way that they can use their online classes to create their responses. For example, I ask my students to watch a documentary after that; I do not ask them to write a summary of this documentary. Instead, I WANT them to answer my queries like what is the most interesting thing you noticed in that documentary? Is that application to another phenomenon, if yes then how? Do you want to add anything to this video? Questions like these will help instructors to know how their students are thinking about certain aspects they taught in the classroom. Asking your students to create short video responses on specific questions is a great way to boost their confidence and to see how well they can explain certain phenomena.
Group discussions are the handiest way for teachers to assess a student’s intellectual growth during online teaching. Assign a topic to a particular group of students, and have them speak on it for 5 to 10 minutes, see how they argue and counter-argue and make your assessments. These are just a few out of the many ways we can use to make assessments; the law is simple, divide your assessments into small parts for each topic make it more straightforward and understandable to your student with the help of rubrics and help your students to answer, the objective is student learning the grades are only figures.
Also read; An outclass conversation with Dr Younas Khan
Kaleem Ullah is from Ziarat Balochistan. He has done Masters in Biochemistry from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and has also done an MA in English literature from UOB. He is also a former lecturer of Sargodha University.