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2 months ago

Online teaching methods

Pros and cons of different methodologies

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Covid-19 drove a fundamental shift in our lifestyle, when it forced the entire world to go remote.

Like any other faucet of our life, education took a drastic change as well. Students around the world shifted to online classes, and online teaching suddenly became mainstream. Online teaching had already been growing rapidly in the years prior to Covid-19 pandemic, particularly due to the rise of progressively better video streaming. However, it was Covid-19 pandemic that brought the necessity of online learning/teaching in front of most students and teachers.

Unfortunately, it soon became evident that the "slapping class content on a Zoom call" approach to online learning was not being very fruitful in terms of student retention. In fact, most studies and surveys done in the time period corroborate to the fact that almost all school and college teachers strongly preferred normal classes over online classes. For example, a study by Copenhagen Centre for Social Data Science found out that almost 70 per cent of the teachers strongly agree that it is easier to keep student's attention in a physical class over an online one.

Throughout the years, a number of teaching pedagogies and methods have been adapted by institutions around the world. Understanding their benefits and disadvantages can help students and teachers understand what structure suits them the most.

Asynchronous learning: Asynchronous learning, gaining popularity for its flexibility and accessibility, involves classes where teachers and students don't need to be online simultaneously. Lectures, in video or text form, are posted by teachers, allowing students to go through them at their convenience. Paired with engaging tools like polls and discussion boards, this method can enhance student participation significantly. However, while it is true that self-paced learning accommodates diverse learning styles, it limits real-time interaction and collaboration, potentially hindering effective doubt resolution.

Synchronous learning: Synchronous learning involves real-time online classes with simultaneous student-teacher presence, typically conducted through video conferencing and live webinars. It offers enhanced teaching functionalities like screen sharing, whiteboard use, annotation, and chat for improved visualisation and student participation. Teachers can monitor attendance and engagement in this method (unlike asynchronous learning) and create collaborative assignments using "Breakout Rooms." However, drawbacks of this method include time constraints and limited flexibility, often resulting in decreased participation, as observed during the pandemic.

Flipped classroom: The flipped classroom, a trending teaching approach, promotes active learning and personalised pacing but also pairs it off with continuous teacher feedback. Rather than assigning work post-lecture (like traditional classes), teachers provide assignments and coursework before class, leaving space for the classes to transform into dynamic discussions and doubt solving sessions. This method addresses challenges in both asynchronous and synchronous learning, offering timely feedback and flexibility. However, the time-intensive preparation for instructors posses a challenge. And many students struggles with self-discipline as well, and they do not go through the course material timely. These may undermine the effectiveness of the flipped classroom for all.

Blended learning: This may be best approach towards learning post pandemic, blending positive elements of both in person and online classes. It can also be termed as Hybrid Cohort Based Learning. For online courses, that often comprises of a pre-recorded coursework alongside live sessions.

Blended learning is particularly useful for working individuals and students who have scheduling conflicts. The coursework is divided up into "offline" and "online" segments, and the teacher figures out which parts are to be taught in person and which parts online. Based on that, the teacher curates resources for both offline (discussions, exercises, labs and presentations) and online (slides, videos, quizzes). The issue with blended learning is that teachers need to be trained and they need to invest a good amount of time into curating materials for both online and offline sessions. This presents a logistical challenge for the instructor, which may not feasible at times.

Project/problem/case-based learning: Although these three learning styles are categorised differently, they more or less share the same fundamental framework. Students are given a central open-ended question relating to the subject matter whose solution needs critical thinking and in depth exploration of that subject matter. These learning styles encourage collaboration and deep understanding of the subject matter. Furthermore, they also help students see the topic in relevance with the real world, because the questions often mirror the real world. Although constructive, there is a lack of standardisation in these learning styles and assessment may be difficult as well. And since these are mostly group projects, unequal contribution from student may hinder effective learning, and so teachers need to take steps to curb that as well.

Gamification: Gamifying coursework and classes can be an effective way to increase retention and participation for all types of learners. By integrating points and mastery badges, students can be incentivised to learn and participate more. Creating a leaderboard can help foster a sense of healthy competition between students as well. The possibilities of gamifying coursework is endless, through mediums ranging from roleplaying to interactive quizzes. Of course, such frameworks will need immense time and resources, and there is a genuine concern that many students may focus on the superficial values like "points" or "leaderboard" and miss out on understanding the subject matter.

Even though students around the world are returning to physical classes, the use of some online elements can significantly improve students' understanding, participation and engagement. Training teachers and instructors to incorporate more of these elements can be an important step towards a more sustainable and effective teaching model.

Sabit Ibtisam Anan is a passionate researcher on learning, sustainability and development.

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