Teachers Community of Learning Bangalore South Block 3 Vidyagama program

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As a result of the lock-down owing to Covid-19, schools are exploring ways of supporting student learning. Given that the situation is not a short term challenge and is likely to pose difficulties intermittently, it is necessary to evolve appropriate and flexible strategies to design learning possibilities for students, especially for students who may not receive much support at home. The flexible strategies will involve a combination of online sessions with offline activities, project-based learning, thematic learning, etc. Having no interactions with students, or relying only on online education would not be adequate and research says that students, particularly from marginalized backgrounds run the risk of malnutrition, dropping out of education, early marriages and child labour.

The TCOL program has aimed to support schools and teachers to integrate ICT in their teaching and this situation requires careful attention to possibilities of supporting learning, and the 2020-21 program will focus on this requirement.

Principles of the program

  1. Decentralization - Locating the teacher at the center of the effort and supporting decentralized efforts by schools and communities, rather than a centralized one-size-fits-all program. This is essential for flexible, including 'out of box' local actions to changing situations. Local actions will also be quicker than centralized decision making. Teachers and schools need to be empowered to take timely decisions to respond to challenges, instead of waiting for instructions. This requires appropriate guidelines to be provided, requiring local actions.
  2. Comprehensive efforts - Exploring multiple options to provide holistic learning opportunities to students, beyond only 'digital education'
  3. Aims of education - Going beyond syllabi and textbook confines, to explore education in the context of an unprecedented pandemic, whose impact will stay for decades. This exploration is needed in line with the larger aims of education, to build concerned and capable citizens, who can work towards the attainment of our constitutional ideals.
  4. Adequately resourcing - schools and teachers to be able to respond to the challenges. The pandemic will require far greater investment in schools, especially schools working with students from marginalized communities, and the resourcing/funding of activities will directly influence the overall effectiveness of the efforts.

Design of school-level intervention

Collection of context information for planning teaching-learning

While schools will have basic information about their students and parents, collected during the admission process, to enable online education, more information needs to be collected covering - address, map location, number of devices at home, Internet connectivity on each device, availability of device with the student (if the device is owned by a parent who takes it to work, then it would be accessible to the student only in the morning or the evening), electricity supply situation, siblings and the grades they are studying in (since some of the offline activities can take the support of parents and siblings), parent's educational status, etc. See this sheet for an information template. Each school needs to create a similar document to plan its online and offline teaching efforts.

IVRS (Interactive Voice Recognition System) can provide the schools an easier way to collect most of this data without needing to call all parents repeatedly. The school can record a message with provides simple options to the receiver (parent) to provide answers to many of these questions by pressing the number pad in their phones (press 1 for 'have one device at home'). The responses would be automatically collected in a spreadsheet and can be used for micro-planning. See this document for an illustrative IVRS message to parents. This should be sent in the language that the parents speak and should be in the manner they speak (rather than formal textbookish versions of the language).

Design of curriculum appropriate to the context

The teaching processes that have been followed in classroom teaching, will not be possible to be replicated. Instead, new teaching-learning processes and materials can be innovated to engage students and provide relevant and meaningful learning opportunities. There should be no pressure to 'complete the syllabus' and 'conduct the exams', as that would have a detrimental impact on student interest and learning. Instead, the textbook topics can be adapted to provide opportunities for designing small collaborative projects. In the given situation, having the entire cohort of one class/grade and section will be unlikely, hence the projects/activities have to be designed for small learning groups (10-15 students) and these are likely to be mixed-age learning groups. Schools will need to network with local community volunteers (college students, high school graduates, other qualified, willing people), who can support the teachers' efforts. The program will need to combine digital content and online education with physical (face to face) learning and materials. 

Creating appropriate lessons/content for online teaching (creating and teaching)

Online teaching is NOT the conversion of 'chalk and talk' into video recording of lectures, much more creativity is needed to make the learning an engaging activity. Students are unlikely to spend hours watching videos of teaching. Interactivity is even more necessary in online learning.

This means that lessons would need to be developed and digital versions created to be used in online teaching. The lessons can be developed as projects that students can co-design and implement in their homes/communities along with their family members.

Educating about the pandemic

The first focus of the program should be on building a greater and firmer understanding of the pandemic and educating parents and communities through the students. Simple audiovisual and print materials, some available and some developed can be shared with students through online as well as shared in community

Subject-specific content and pedagogy models for teaching

The TPCK (Technological-Pedagogical-Content Knowledge) framework can be used to support the planning of lessons that are engaging and facilitate student learning.

The approaches would need to have a subject-specialization, even as disciplinary boundaries will need to be transcended during this period. Hence these are discussed by subject - Mathematics, Kannada, English, and Science.

School support system

The DIETs, BRCs and CRCs need to be facilitated to provide ongoing support to the schools and teachers. The pandemic has repeatedly proven the principle that centralized approaches will not work, as local solutions have to be imagined by schools/ teachers. Hence the support from the school system has to be guidelines and encouraging the autonomous design of responses of the schools. Heavy-handed fiats will be counterproductive.

Familiarity and comfort with online learning platform (connecting and teaching)

Online learning platforms have some features to support online teaching including - video conferencing, sharing screen (which has a presentation or a video or even a web page), digital white/blackboard, online chatting, etc. Student management functions like muting participants, locking participants, sharing presentation rights, etc are also useful to learn.

BigBlueButton is a free and open-source online teaching platform. It can be used as a standalone platform to teach or can be integrated with the Moodle Learning Management System. The latter option is suitable for teacher training programs while the former is simpler and hence suitable for student teaching. BigBlueButton has the advantage that it does not require an app installation to use on the phone, a web address (URL) is sufficient.

Familiarity with BigBlueButton will require two sessions of a few hours each, the second to refresh learning and solve any doubts or issues. See BigBlueButton_Workshop page for a workshop to learn BigBlueButton