In a conversation with The Business Standard, frontrunners of online education in Bangladesh spoke about the 101 of online schooling amid the pandemic
Educational institutions in the country have remained closed since mid-March and recently, the closure was extended till August 6.
However, teachers have been communicating with students via online classes and examinations. For most of them, this is their first experience of remote learning.
The Business Standard reached out to some of the pioneers of online education in the country to find out if they had any pointers for the thousands of teachers who are struggling to cope with is a fairly new platform for them.
Md Sohan Haidear, founder of e-learning platform Smartifier Academy, suggested teachers set the camera at eye-level to give the impression that the teacher is talking directly to the students. They will feel more comfortable this way.
He added, "To avoid awkward angles, use a tripod or monopod with the camera. If you are using a laptop, you can increase its height by placing it on top of a box or a high table. Also, make sure to check your microphone."
The code of conduct is also important as both teachers and students will be attending classes from home.
"A teacher should dress as s/he would during regular classes. Students are used to seeing teachers in formal attires," said Sohan. This will help recreate the class environment, he said.
Sohan went on, "At the beginning of a class, the teacher should ask the students if they can hear her/him clearly. The volume should be adjusted according to their feedback. In case the class is being broadcasted via a phone, the teacher can use headphones that have a mic."
Since this is the first phase of full-fledged online education for most teachers, there might be some confusion about which platform to use for classes.
Video calling platforms such as Zoom, Google Classroom, Skype, and Facebook Live, along with pre-recorded videos are solutions that come right off the bat. But which one is the most suitable for online school?
"It depends on the requirement. The best practice would be to have some pre-recorded videos the students can watch anytime they want," Sohan advised.
These recordings should contain the fundamental ideas.
"On one hand, Zoom and Facebook Live offer options for Q&A sessions, which make the classes more interactive. On the other hand, Google Classroom integrates quizzes, video uploading, assignments and grading. It is the best option for educational institutions," he added.
However, this platform lacks live streaming option, which is why Sohan suggested combining Google Classroom and a Facebook group for smoother communication.
He opined that classes can be live streamed through the Facebook group, while the pre-recorded content can be communicated through Google Classroom.
Many students tend to get distracted during online classes. Retaining their attention is important to ensure productivity.
This has also become one of the major concerns for teachers. It can be especially tricky for nursery school teachers.
"In virtual space, teachers have less control over students' attention. That is why the lessons need to be more interactive. This can be achieved by using attractive PowerPoint slides," Sohan said.
He added that teachers also need to accept that some students are going to be engaged in something else online while attending the class.
"One way to tackle this is by asking questions and awarding bonus points for correct answers. Using props can also help to keep students focused."
So how does Sohan make online classes participatory? He said that he uses multiple ways.
"I invite people on my live stream using the software 'Stream Yard'. I set quizzes and I always have one person from my team constantly showing the comments on the streaming screen," he said.
Sohan also shows funny images, memes, and movie characters that students enjoy.
"I improvise songs based on lessons of the day suggested by students," he further informed.
This correspondent asked Sohan to suggest ways through which students' participation and transparency can be maintained in the absence of answer scripts.
"There are many ways a student can cheat in an exam. Having multiple sets of questions or jumbling up the order might help. Till now, focusing more on open-ended questions has been the best approach," he suggested.
Although distance learning has gained acceptance, drawbacks such as unstable internet connection and power outage remain problematic.
To handle these issues, Sohan suggested pre-recorded videos. "Zoom sessions can be recorded. Facebook and YouTube also archive live videos in groups and channels. Students can log in later and avail missed lessons," he added.
On duration of online classes, Sohan said, "Smartifier Academy has not faced any difficulty with hour long or hour and 30 minutes long classes." He believes that the timing of the class is more important.
"Many students have to help with household chores during this crisis. So, it is best to avoid time slots that are very close to lunch and breakfast hours," he suggested.
For teachers with no prior experience of online class, Sohan suggested using visual content and breaking down one lesson into smaller chunks.
"Smiling, maintaining eye contact, showing enthusiasm and asking questions can be of great help to establish better interaction with students," he detailed.
To start off easy, Sohan suggested teachers to divide the class into five-minute slots and take feedback from students later. "Use Google Form for taking feedback and make it anonymous," he advised.
"In videos, facial expressions become highly visible. To improve speech delivery, teachers can practice in front of the camera for a few minutes and watch the recording afterwards."
While talking about some of his own methods, Sohan said, "At Smartifier Academy, we engage students with modular questions where they can assess their progress themselves. We also have a discussion forum and live classroom features such as polls and group activities to keep students engaged during live sessions."
Are we really ready for full-fledged online schooling?
"We are not ready or equipped for full-fledged online schooling," said Ayman Sadiq, founder and CEO of 10 Minute School.
When asked to comment on how the online education system should function amid technological barriers, Ayman said, "There are a ton of variables which need to get sorted. But I think we are lacking pro-activeness to have a proper shift now."
To minimise the plight of technology in online classes, 10 Minute School has pitched a solution to multiple universities.
The pitch draft from Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) outlines a structure through which university students will be able to attend online classes, bypassing the issues of unstable internet connection and power outages.
The universities will provide study materials to students through the 10 Minute School app and mobile network operator Robi will provide data packs to students to ensure uninterrupted sessions.
The 10 Minute School app will act as the classroom, where all study materials would be archived as downloadable items, question papers would appear in real time and students would be able to check grades once they are published.
Information about the pitch has been derived from a draft titled "Designing the E-learning Experience for University Students", provided exclusively by Ayman Sadiq to The Business Standard.