Teachers should innovate to adapt to the needs of their classrooms
Apart from teaching us the art of adapting to circumstantial needs, the Covid-19 pandemic has prepared us to deal with many critical moments in life. This holds true for the resilience demonstrated by most people in their domestic and professional lives. When it comes to academia, not all stakeholders have been able to realise the need to develop an acceptance to change the manner in which they used to perform their duties in the pre-Covid era.
In one of my previous articles, I talked about the way in which the curse of the pandemic has, paradoxically, afforded us the opportunity to equip ourselves with innovative means of projecting our knowledge and expertise.
Some teachers have devised extraordinary methods and means to reach out to and engage their virtual pupils. There has been a substantial amount of knowledge dispersion and research output that has phenomenally changed the academic ecology and thinking.
In the national context, while there have been some excellent examples all of us can benefit from, we have also seen academic lethargy and denial, exhibited by both teachers and learners. The latter is still the biggest hurdle in making up for the loss that will take several years to cover.
On the bright side, the current situation has created new opportunities and there has been some successful experimentation in the right direction. All we need is the right amount of motivation combined with the right amount of technological know-how to come out of our lethargic zones. How many of us, despite our big claims about the use of innovative teaching methodologies in our classrooms, have actually transformed our delivery of knowledge. An honest answer on all hands will give us a tiny percentage.
So, then how are we trying to satisfy the learners – by giving them less work, requiring them to put less effort and by assigning them good grades? Alternatively, what are learners demanding from their teachers – less work, less effort and good grades?
The parallelism creates a satisfying space for the most important stakeholders of any educational system, teachers and learners. But, ironically, within this satisfaction lies the failure of academia and by extension, the whole educational system.
We all know by now that the pandemic is going to linger for long, giving us intermittent respite to relive the good old days. For several months, the learners as well as educators have been facing many problems related to health, economic downturn and a tense domestic environment. The situation, of course, is far less than satisfactory for the institutes imparting education. In addition, a gradual decline in the learners’ performance and resistance to hard work act as demotivational factors jeopardising the way to quality education.
How about gearing up, moving on and making our future even better than the past? Our survival in the future lies in the adaptation we make today. With this as my mantra, I propose a few strategies that can help teachers and learners take responsibility for their work and disentangle themselves from the past that is no more and never will be. There are no easy ways; only challenging days teeming with gratifying productivity.
Most meaningful teaching experiences are those in which learners are actively engaged and, at the same time, in control of their learning. In some of our educational institutes, many teachers fail to bind the class into one unit. In others, the learners use digressive means to stop the flow of information. This mostly happens because of the uneven distribution of course activities designed by the teachers. In other words, the course design workflow is not balanced well enough to create a performance-based classroom.
Successful student learning depends on an effectively and creatively designed course. For this, global pedagogical research has been emphasising outcome-based learning because it is spirited by planning, purpose, and actual demonstration of the acquired skills. My personal experience as an academic and administrator has revealed some interesting but disturbing practices employed by teachers. The assessment activities, although categorised as quiz, assignment, presentation, oral examination, viva, case-study etc, when investigated for their specific function and outcome, turn out to be cloned entities, exposing a similar pattern each time they are administered.
In order to avoid such a problem, courses, whether online, blended, or face-to-face, should be broken into units or manageable chunks with each unit including its specific topics, content, objectives and assessments aligned with those objectives. These entities should be reflected in the overall performance of the learners rather than studded like gems in the displayed course outlines. Although learners should be made aware of the pace and pattern which teachers determine for them at the beginning of the semester, teachers should also continuously adapt to the needs and requirements of their class.
Although I agree that a course outline is not a religious treatise; it can change as the weeks move on according to the receptive level and quality of the learners, an unplanned course is like an arrow shot in the dark; its chances of hitting the bull’s eye are remote. Hence, it is of utmost importance that we, as teachers, reorganise our presence and re-plot our methodology. Re-plotting of the teaching route not only allows a teacher-learner compatible sequencing of the presented material but also helps the learners navigate through the hard parts with less anxiety and pressure.
Various methods, such as an open but balanced pedagogy, backward design workflow, competency-based assessments, critical reviews, and flexible yet concept-based assessment strategies can help produce the outcomes an effective educational experience requires. These methods work as defamiliarisation strategies, to borrow from a Russian formalism, to jolt learners out of their comfort zones while, at the same time, giving them a sense of positive competition and curiosity. Unexpected learning tools employed with discretion can bring about innovative means to handle problematic situations.
The classroom, virtual or physical, should be focussed on the problem solving skills and concept-based learning rather than on the grades that somehow have become an obsession with the learners. Learners, for their part, should raise the bar from being the consumers to becoming the producers. They need to own their struggle, structure their learning habits, systematise their efforts, synthesise their knowledge with their environment and be ready to repeat and refine it.
On one hand, teachers should innovate by adapting to the needs of the current classrooms and, on the other, learners need to develop a sense of maturity and love for knowledge that can fetch them professional success rather than presentable grades on an unprofitable and insipid report card. Let us together build an academic world ready to embrace the unknown and the unexplored.
The writer serves at the Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Management and Technology, Lahore, as an associate professor and chairperson