With the physical closure due to the global coronavirus pandemic, educational institutions around the world including Nepal, are exploring, experimenting, and experiencing other modes of teaching and learning. Social distancing being the most important preventive measure to check the transmission of the coronavirus, educational institutions have responded by canceling the classes in a traditional face-to-face format and moving to an online format, where and when possible. This write-up looks at the online mode of education based on the authors’ online educational engagement as students and teachers, as well as on their reflections on the issue.
The absence of face-to-face interaction among teachers and students, and among students, has been cited as a feature of online education. This is because asynchronous communication is the norm in online learning where participants do not need to be online at a particular time to access and respond to information; they can do so at their own convenience. For example, in one class of the first author as a student, the teacher had uploaded a video recording and associated assignment, and he engaged with this material towards the middle of the day. Although the class was held in the morning, he had slept late due to other assignments and could only engage with the class material later.
However, online education can happen synchronously where the participants come together at a particular time over the internet. And with the availability of applications like Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, and TeamViewer students can now engage in face-to-face interactions even online. As a teacher, I mostly invited students to synchronous classes, which allowed me to use class discussions in teaching and learning. Hence we see the availability of both synchronous and asynchronous forms of teaching and learning in online education, which is an advantage not available in traditional in-person education.
Easier documentation of teaching and learning is another vital strength of online education. For example, educational materials including videos are made available prior to a class in an asynchronous mode. Class engagement can be video-recorded with the click of a button in a synchronous mode and made available as soon as the class ends. The video recordings of classroom interactions are a great resource for the evaluation of teaching and learning to make the engagements more effective, both for the teacher and for the students.
As some form of physical distancing will be in place for the foreseeable future, online classes are the only safe method of teaching and learning worldwide, including in Nepal. This makes it imperative for Nepali educators and education planners to reflect on the advantages and challenges of online teaching.
When everything in the country is deeply affected by the pandemic, and the experience of daily life, including educational experience, has changed significantly, online classes to some degree ensure continuity in the channels and habits of learning for students. Additionally, students don’t have to pick up on educational engagement from where they last left long ago in the traditional in-person mode of education. To top it up, online classes are also helping parents to engage children in creative and intellectual pursuits which the traditional in-person education might not leave space for.
Unequal access to high-speed internet is a big challenge for online education in Nepal, as the country exhibits a huge internet infrastructure differences among its regions. Because of this, many people who are not connected by the internet, mostly in rural areas, are failing to participate in online classes, and their absence is depriving them of learning. Such experiences can be disempowering. So the government should focus on closing this gap in technology infrastructure.
Besides the gap in internet accessibility, another significant challenge to online education is inadequate technological competency. Technological competency in both teachers and students is a precondition for successful online teaching and learning, and in the absence of such competence, imparting online education is a challenge for many educators and students. To run online classes in Nepal in the present context would mean excluding those teachers and students who did not have the need, interest, or the opportunity to gain mastery over these learning tools in the past.
Therefore, providing formal training to build competence for the use of online learning platforms and tools and bridging the infrastructure accessibility gap are pre-requisites for effective teaching and learning online, which has now become an essential mode of education globally.
Dahal is a Ph.D. Scholar in Social Work at Boston College, USA, and Dhamala is an Assistant Professor of English at Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus, Nepal