Only 17% among a sample of 900 undergraduate students strongly agreed that online teaching during the pandemic was effective – that teachers communicated well, taught enthusiastically, and tried to create a comfortable environment allowing flexibility and access beyond the classroom.
Out of those students, 30% found online teaching to be not at all effective. However, almost 70% acknowledged that their ability for self-learning increased but there were several challenges.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, colleges across India shifted to online education in March 2020.
While Edtech startups and massive open online course (MOOC) providers had created a buzz before the pandemic, the new situation forced institutes to experiment with alternative methods of learning, that could lead to new possibilities. In this sudden transition, challenges faced by teachers, students, and administrators were very new.
A survey titled "Examining the effectiveness of online teaching in response to Covid-19 pandemic: An Indian context" conducted by the authors at the Department of Management Studies, Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT) Jaipur tried to measure the effectiveness of online teaching in response to the pandemic in India through a survey among college students and faculty members. The survey was conducted in ten different states including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Agartala, Assam, Manipur, West Bengal, and Maharashtra. The focus was social science courses like history, psychology, economics, management, and humanities.
These are some of the highlights from the survey.
70%: Students Who Reported Difficulty In Accessing Online Education
Almost 70% students reported some difficulty in participating in online classes, due to the unavailability of devices or poor internet connections. These students belong to different states, regions, and economic classes.
Reshma managed to get a smartphone eight months after online classes began. Her parents are daily wage earners in Jaipur. Amit from Punjab, pursuing MBA in Delhi, had a smartphone but the power supply was intermittent in his area. "The major challenge is getting seamless internet connectivity in the rural area as there are no broadband service providers nearby," he expressed.
Students mentioned that they have limited data packs. "If one does not have a wifi connection or it doesn't work due to weather, the mobile data isn't enough," said Kim, a history student from Assam.
90%: Teachers Who Took Online Classes During Pandemic
While everyone is trying, ensuring quality was a major challenge. In our survey among teachers, 90% said that they have been teaching online during the pandemic, with some who had to buy their own laptops.
The institutes did not have any standard operating procedures (SOPs) for online education, said 86% among the surveyed. The ones teaching practical courses were far more baffled. More than 60% said that institutes did not invest in dedicated online platforms or specialized training for faculty members. Zoom was the most widely used platform.
8 seconds: Attention Span of Gen Z
Gen Z has an attention span of just 8 seconds. Engaging them is challenging in physical classes, but the challenge amplifies in an online environment. 74% faculty members felt that students are least interested in online classes because they think it will not help in getting jobs while 54% felt that the pandemic affected their interest level.
A majority of them agreed that connectivity problems existed to a great extent. Students also complained of pain in the eyes, headaches, and other symptoms due to continuous online classes.
The Trouble Of Communication
After connectivity, the second biggest challenge stated by the students was a lack of face-to-face communication. Students mostly kept their videos switched off either due to limited data packs or they felt conscious about their looks.
From a faculty point of view, it was difficult to create an inclusive learning environment. "A teacher's understanding of students' body language plays a role in effective learning. If a student is disinterested or requires encouragement, the teacher knows," shared one of them. A technique often used for inclusive classrooms is cold calling - where the teacher calls out the student's name rather than asking someone to volunteer to answer.
Cold-calling in online teaching was tough, as shared in the faculty survey. Should the teacher call out a name? What if the student is taking care of a sick family member? What if the student does not have a dedicated space to sit? What if the student gets disconnected? There were genuine issues.
Is Online The Future Of Education?
The majority of respondents strongly agreed that online classes were better than no classes at all. They provided comfort and saved time. But the challenges were looming large. For technical issues, funds and investment in infrastructure and delivery platforms are needed. Curriculum and pedagogy need an update. SOPs that incorporate flexibility, structural clarity, and IT support are required. Faculty members need training in using online platforms, creating course websites, and tools and techniques for improving interaction and inclusion.
Apart from technical problems, people-related challenges are daunting. For students, peer learning is important. Gaurav, pursuing an MBA from one of the top institutes said, "In business schools, the company you keep determines your growth." While formal peer learning can be structured in online education through group assignments and discussions, interaction in the hostels, sports clubs, volunteer programs, cultural fests, etc. cannot happen in online education.
This is like the debate if Artificial Intelligence will replace human beings or not. Experts stand for as well as against the motion. However, online education during the pandemic has shown that learning outcomes are not only about efficiency - empathy, equity, and inclusion are equally important.
The authors are faculty members at the Department of Management Studies, MNIT, Jaipur. The survey is part of a project granted to them by the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR), New Delhi. All names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.