Crisis Learning, Remote learning and Online learning –

Not the same thing at all.

What we are doing right now is trying to action crisis learning remotely, and as we reach out into the ether for access to our learners, the channel we find first is online learning. And so we do what we can.

Online learning in a crisis is not the whole of the job. But it’s the little part that we find that we can action first. Then, we move on to remote learning, and we are trying to find ways to do that. Some areas are going back to television, others to radio ‘tele-lessons’. In Delhi, worksheets were being distributed along with free rations, so that learning continuity remains. There is no way to test the efficacy or the outcome of these efforts. But they must continue.

Whether it is remote or just online learning, we know that for now, we are working in crisis mode. And crisis learning is not the same as normal learning. So far, most crisis learning has evolved in situations or war, famine that has led to mass migrations leading to refugee camps. As a part of the camp set up, schools and learning are established to bring a sense of comfort, normalcy, care and continuity in learning. The curriculum and resources are designed according to need, but are subject to resource constraints. But crisis education has not had to face this one constraint ever before – that of physical distance. Even refugee camp schools could gather students together in a tent, in our pandemic, we cannot.

Learning is emotional, learning is social. We connect with our content when we are in the company of teachers, and peers. That’s how we have done it so far. No wonder our teachers are feeling performance anxiety. They can master the buttons on their apps and devices within a week, but mastering connect at at distance is a whole other level of performance.

And that is the key word – performance. Take a minute to reflect on the various shades of meaning of this word. Performance.

While teachers are educators, and not entertainers, during the crisis, we have to perform in new ways to be able to engage our students emotionally. Renewing the social connect is vital to enabling the student to perform their part in learning, and progressing. Our class performance is about how we adapt and grow forward together.

So, what can teachers try, to improve this performance?

Let’s try these five principles.

  1. Effervescence, not just engagement. The teacher needs to aim for a more joyful, bubbly and extroverted persona to be able to to reach across the ether. We have moved from a three dimensional world with physical contact, to a distant two dimensional world. We will need to find a way to overcompensate for this, in the short run. This is bound to be very exhausting for teachers, especially natural introverts. And will sound awfully faux if we try to overdo it – so there are caveats and limits here too.

  2. Genuine concern for progress. This is something that teachers, especially good teachers used to do seamlessly in the classroom. But those new to the online medium in the crisis may find themselves so focused on the new tech and the content they must cover, that it is easy to forget the invisible thread that they weave to connect the student to the learning. And that is emotional. The balancing act here is to stay professional and speak of content related things, even in online classes, but to be able to elicit an emotional connect with the material. This is often done via jokes, and laughter. By telling stories. By connecting it to the current reality. By asking students to take over for a little bit. There are many ways, and we can do a session on it sometime. It is imperative to create that connect via concern and care.

  3. Don’t try to replicate the classroom. You cannot. It is not the same space, it is not the same medium, it is not the same situation – then how can the same techniques work? They don’t. The online medium works in shorter sections. And depending on how you design it, it works for a different number of students – some sessions are good only for 6-10 students at a time, some sessions can accommodate hundreds and still be effective! There is no reason for online teaching to have the same 30 or 40 students in the session, just because there is some history of some administrator allocating them to a ‘section’, when the constraint of the building, or rushing to the staffroom to swap books is no longer there! You are free now, to do it in a way that works. If you are fortunate to work in a teaching team, you can divide the work in different ways, maybe each taking a chapter, some taking on break out activities (which is formative assessment), some doing recordings, each of you running multiple discussion sessions on the same topic. The possibilities are huge, and each will figure out what works best for learning. All teaching does not have to be synchronous, because all learning is asynchronous anyway.
  4. Don’t play the old power games – online is an egalitarian medium. Control? Forget about it. Confidence – there are other ways that work. How do you retain the thread of learning and progress if you cannot control the class? If there is no discipline, as imposed by you the teacher?  It’s a scary new space, where students often know more than you (us, I’m on your side) and can hack the system with ease. Well, they can hack the system, but we are professionals in hacking learning. We will just do it differently, but this time round, we will have to concede that the medium has removed the hierarchy. So, we will have to call on other tools in our kitty. Ever played fastest finger first? Exciting, isn’t it? Shall we try that in online lessons. Guess what it does – it gives control back to the teacher who is running the game. Let’s try another tool – discovery projects, where we create shared spaces of exploration and wonder. We know how to  run them – now, we need to connect them up with the five things we are talking about here. Keep it fun. Speed it up. Reassure them. Challenge them. It’s not as if they have places to you – you are their window to the world, even now. Be the light that brings them to the window again and again.

  5. Ask for help. You need time to plan. You need time to practice. You need time to execute. You need support with curation. You need help with managing your community. You are not alone. The entire school community is in the same situation. We may be at a physical distance, but we are in this together. Reach out.

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