COVID has fast-tracked the adoption of technology by schools and teachers. While it hasn’t been easy, teachers have managed to navigate all challenges by smartly adopting various tools and techniques for ensuring uninterrupted learning. ‘Interviews with Educators of the future’ is an interview series we do with different teachers to share the collective insights with the teacher community.

In this, Chaitanya Naik, Head of Product- QuizNext got into a conversation with Urvashi Khanolkar, Mathematics teacher at ASPAM Indian International School, Sharjah. Urvashi Khanolkar has over 6 years of experience and is also the middle-school coordinator at ASPAM school.

What are the challenges you uncovered after adopting online classes? 

When we shifted to online classes, it was about adapting to the online platforms, understanding the features and functionalities and then creating protocols for online teaching. 

Although we have used technology in classrooms, virtual space is completely different than being in the same room. Students think, behave and understand differently on the online platform and to gauge that gap was a challenge. Reaching and engaging students or even monitoring them to make sure that they are not feeling left out was a challenge. While it isn’t the same as being in a classroom; over a period of time, we have tried our best to bridge those gaps. 

What tools or technology are you using to engage students during online classes? 

Our LMS is Microsoft Teams, however, we are conducting classes on Zoom, because it is better for visual communication, it helps to have everybody together on one screen via Zoom. 

I use Padlet to conduct discussions in the class, students share their answers or thoughts on it, then once all the students complete, as a teacher I can approve which answers to share with the rest of the class or give the necessary feedback. This helps in conducting discussions which we would have conducted orally in classrooms. I also use graphic organizers to structure thinking and to make learning more visual. 

Also, break-out rooms on Zoom is a good feature for conducting group discussions and group activities or for assigning different tasks to certain students. 

I have also used other platforms similar to Quiznext, like Quizizz for formative assessment or for post-class validation. 

What do you think of formative assessments? Can they replace the summative assessments at least for lower grades? 

In an online class setup, it is quite difficult to conduct a summative assessment. With online classes being full-time, formative assessments are a better way to conduct assessments. But in the long run, I am not sure. As per the Indian curriculum or examination system, since students are expected to write board exams, we can’t completely do away with summative assessments. As a policy, they might change the format of exam over a period of time, but until then, at least for the higher grades we can’t do away with summative assessments. 

For lower grades, formative assessments can reduce the pressure and help them focus less on memorizing and more on applying. At our school, we conduct formative assessments every Thursday or when we finish a chapter, whichever is more feasible for teachers. 

What aspects of online learning will you carry into classrooms once the lockdown ends? 

  • Our classrooms are equipped with a smartboard, but with online learning, I have realized that technology usage could be increased further to make learning effective. Once we resume regular school, we may introduce BYOD in our classrooms, which can further integrate technology in day-to-day learning. 
  • Online classes offer transparency and access to resources. For instance, today on MS Teams, my students have access to all my class resources like PowerPoint presentations, notes, assignments and at times, class recordings. Even if someone misses classes, they can pick up from there. Everything is documented and there is transparency. Even if parents want to access them, it is available. This improves overall communication; this is something I would like to continue even after the classes resume as normal. 
  • Lastly, I have realized a lot of work especially assignments can go paperless and could be done with online tools. This could be a good jump especially for Indian curriculum schools on their journey towards paperless classrooms.  

Have the teacher communities become more active post COVID? In the US, teacher communities have been active both online and offline, do you see this happening in the ME? 

In the Middle East, with respect to teacher communities, I suppose we are somewhere between the US and India. We have a very active teacher community here, but it hasn’t been as prolific as the ones in the US with a big online presence. Even pre-COVID, we would have teacher meetups, workshops and conferences where we would get to interact and learn from other teachers. 

But then, we were bound by time and space. Now online webinars have opened up avenues for frequent meetups. Pre- COVID, if there would be meetups once a month, now probably we have one every week. Also, teaching online is a challenge, so people want to talk about it and learn from each other. 

Could you tell us more about the hybrid model that ASPAM Indian International school plans to experiment with? 

Starting October ‘20, depending on the situation, we plan to start the hybrid model, where we will have few students come to the school and others learn online. This a small step towards resuming face-to-face classes; it will help the high school students to attend their lab sessions.  

But that’s not a mandatory thing, parents have the option of whether to send students to school or not. We conducted a survey with our parent community, there were about 10-15 percent parents per class who were willing to send kids to school. So, we plan to start small and once parents see it working and feel more confident about how we are doing, we expect more parents to start sending their kids to school. Eventually, if there are more students willing to come to school, we will do this on a rotational basis. 

We will be teaching with smart boards, that would be streamed over Zoom for students attending classes online. When it comes to activities, we plan to have some hands-on ones for students in the class while those attending online will do them with a web-tool. It is a little bit challenging, but we will adapt to it as we did with online classes.