Gibu Mathew, GM and VP, APAC, Zoho Corp.

What happens when old-school teaching meets tech?

By Gibu Mathew, VP & GM, APAC, Zoho Corp.

The traditional classroom model of teaching has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. The wise teacher stands facing a class of students, with a blackboard (nowadays of course a whiteboard) behind them, and imparts knowledge to hopefully eager and receptive students.

Apart from possessing deep knowledge of their subjects, good classroom teachers use many other skills to deliver results. They understand the psychology of dealing with a class of individuals with different learning styles, how to supervise unruly students, encourage slow ones, and maintain the interest of the brightest. Personal, face-to-face interaction has always been a crucial factor.

In more recent years, we have seen increasing moves toward remote learning, whether it’s schools scheduling e-learning days, or on-line tuition centers delivering recorded lessons. Such steps are a recognition that students today are digital natives living in a hyper-connected environment and are likely to be receptive to remote learning.

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These gradual moves toward a more digital or hybrid educational structure have been forcibly accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed schools around the world. Faculty and the student body have had no choice but to fully adopt digital teaching solutions.

The challenge for traditional teachers
This represents a major challenge for teachers. How are they to map their traditional, physical teaching methods to the new world of remote education? For their students the challenge is different — their daily lives revolve around consumer apps that deliver instant gratification, and they will have the same expectations toward their digital learning experience. Getting teachers to this level of digital literacy, allowing them to connect with their students on a meaningful level in a remote environment, is more important than ever. No longer are students taking on roles of passive learners, but that of a more autonomous one.

The situation is more complex than just replicating the traditional classroom experience via a camera and a monitor. The most significant implication of the digital revolution is that all knowledge, once the exclusive province of the highly trained and educated teacher, is now available to everyone at a simple keystroke, however unqualified they may be to make use of that knowledge.

Teachers’ changing role
This means that the role of the teacher has changed from simply imparting information to becoming a facilitator and interpreter of knowledge. They must teach critical thinking and the importance of life-long learning, guiding students on a career path that will likely involve many changes of direction and emphasis.

The opportunity is in fact to reimagine teaching, and it is here that the digital environment has massive advantages for the educator. As teachers become more adept at driving an e-learning environment, they find they can access many more resources, including the libraries, galleries, universities, and foundations of the whole world. Using search appropriately can open up a universe of knowledge for students — for example, enabling them through video to see and hear experts share their views on a given subject, much more impactful than the sometimes dry written word.

Criticism of remote teaching has included a lack of human interaction, leading to difficulties in building a vital teacher-student relationship. It is true that earlier technologies suffered from problems of connectivity, latency, and poor audio and video quality, but software widely available today has overcome these issues.

Benefits of virtual classroom Now, teachers can take advantage of the online medium to supervise student behavior and give immediate corrections and personalized feedback whenever necessary. They can enrich the curriculum by directing students to augmented information almost instantaneously. Lessons can be recorded for students to playback and repeat in their own time, and it is straightforward for them to submit questions online on areas they did not fully understand.

Accountability is something started young
A comprehensive learning management system will include online tools that help collaboration by allowing teachers to give more personalized and contextual feedback within the body of the students’ submitted assignments. This digital documentation also brings clarity in grading during the marking process. This also furthers the discussion and learning when teachers are explaining their grading patterns to students, and gives them accountability to parents who are always anxious about their child’s grades.

Beyond the teaching of specific subjects in the curriculum, remote learning helps prepare students for the new digital future. High exposure to the internet means they are susceptible to misinformation. Through interactive remote teaching programs, schools can start early by inculcating good digital habits such as responsibility with data and lesson plans, and healthy online commenting habits. Students get to learn about sifting credible information from the mass that is available and to make properly informed decisions.

Communications beyond the classroom
A teacher’s work life is not spent solely on their students. They also need to communicate with their colleagues, with higher management such as student coordinators, school principals and counselors, and of course with parents who today are able to observe the online lessons.

Cross-functional virtual meeting rooms within the digital system provide the “staff room chat” teachers need for new learning and emotional support. For their part, school management can take advantage of easy-to-use tools that are fast without compromising security, privacy, accuracy, and is effective in training and passing on the philosophy of the school to the staff and new teachers.

Teachers and parents: A one-two combo
The relationship between the teacher and the student’s parents is essential to complete the loop. Interactive digital systems allow productive communication between the two parties, answering parents’ questions and concerns with clear documented evidence of the student’s performance and behavior.

Eventually, schools will reopen and students will return to class. But just as in the world of work, we will have to deal with a New Normal. For educators, this means remote teaching is here to stay, even if it is part of a hybrid system. Some teachers have already embraced digital education, others are coming to understand this new reality, and accept that it actually helps them fulfill their complex multiple roles of educator, counselor, and social worker.

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