Monday 16 March 2020

Online classes - the first experiment

"World is going Work from Home and Al Qamar is going Study from Home. Classes happening for 7 graders on Zoom now. I think they're enjoying it. Alhamdulillah" was the feedback from one of the parents as we launched our 1st online class today.

One of the advantages of being a micro school is the ability to respond rapidly to changing ground realities and adopt new methods. In this COVID-19 ridden world, working or studying from home may increasingly become the norm.  However, children's need for interconnectedness and camaradrie is given short shrift in these new circumstances.  Having online classes - to primarily address this need, rather than curriculum coverage, is an important response.

We tried out Zoom today for an English class. Initially, as kids signed in and joined the classroom, there was silence and tentative comments. This was more to them exploring the new medium. Being the net savvy generation, they figured out the mechanics before I could say "Salam". I guess the special favourite was the private chat, because I could see random, meaningless messages popping up on the Group chat every once in a while - nothing different from the side conversations or scrawled messages that happen in a real classroom.😏  But they were engaged - speaking or typing up responses. 

We use the flipped classroom model - where children pre-read the lesson before coming to class. So we could dive straight into the discussions.  In the lesson on "Travel and Transport", we discussed the merits and demerits of different forms of transportation. Obviously COVID-19 came up as a huge disadvantage for public transport including planes.  Then we moved onto brainstorming the three places in the world they would like to visit. And the reasons why they would want to go there. From Switzerland for its chocolates to Antartica for the cold, they had it all there. 

We doled out the assignments - to be submitted via Google Forms - with real drop dead deadlines. We discussed a potential timetable - how they need to reserve the morning for uninterrupted work or more online classes and the afternoons for completing assignments. I know there will be challenges and disruptions when kids have to stick to a self imposed schedule, but there's great learning in that. With a future of home based work coming up, planning, self drive and self discipline are key life skills.

All in all, the online class could not replace the vibrancy of a face to face class.  Partly due to the newness of the medium, partly due to the distractions of private chats, frequent disconnection/ reconnection issues, clarity of audio etc. Also, not everyone has easy access to computing resources - I'm not sure how many used a mobile to participate. 

However there are a few reasons on why I'm optimistic this method will be a reasonable short term substitute for a face to face class. One, by 7th grade, Al Qamar kids are used to self learning and self discipline. They have worked independently and need little adult supervision or explicit teaching. At Al Qamar, a teacher's role is of a facilitator, rather than a deliverer of knowledge. There is minimal hierarchy and everyone's point of view matters.  Hence the children could pick up the key points, refer to their text and add their thoughts to the discussion. 

Another contributing factor has been the small class sizes at our school, which have enabled us to have focussed and engaged discussions in the real classroom. This has a potential to translate into the virtual classroom once the technical hitches are overcome. A virtual class in larger class sizes would be reduced to a teacher lectures. Class management would also be a challenge.

Looking forward to how the Math and Science classes go. Stay tuned.

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