The aim of education is not merely the acquisition of information or acquisition of technical skills, but the development of a bent of mind and an attitude of reason that would make students of today the responsible citizens of tomorrow. The values and democratic goals of education cannot be achieved unless there is more of ‘real’ rather than ‘virtual’ classroom teachinglearning observed in educational institutions.
Of course, virtual classroom has proved very effective in distance learning modes of education and emerged as a crucial intervention during global and national emergencies like Covid-19 lockdowns, Russia-Ukraine war, natural calamities etc. However, it is not a good strategy for all times and is definitely not an alternate to real classroom teaching-learning so vital for human development.
A virtual classroom is an online learning environment that allows little space for live interaction between the tutor and learners in teachinglearning activities. In other words, the virtual classroom is a shared online space where the teacher and learners work together almost simultaneously; although they are geographically distant from each other. The learners may interact with the teacher and also with each other but with restrictions, there being no scope for socialisation or close interaction.
The virtual classroom is an e-learning concept the primary objective of which is to enable the teacher to impart course materials and the students to perceive education indirectly without being present together in a physical classroom situation. The most probable mode of virtual teaching-learning is the use of instruction material transfer through Internet which allows both teachers and students to communicate and interact remotely and from any location.
With the advent of web-based teaching-learning practices, learning has become a highly personalised activity with full flexibility of time and space available to teachers and students. The role of teachers becomes very crucial in the virtual teaching-learning process, since their direct interaction with students is negligible as they remain away from students. They have to take care not only of content production but also to ascertain what kind of information could be imparted to students and to guide them to choose the right materials from abundantly available recourses.
The various roles of teacher in virtual teaching-learning are such as that of a facilitator who helps students in properly surfing the Internet which is replete with unwanted information; as a remediator who steps in to troubleshoot the learning disconnects when students fail to achieve the learning objectives outlined by the automated system; as an enricher who provides enrichment activities/ adaptive content beyond the scope of the automated system; and as a mentor who provides the students opportunity for entrepreneurial activities in the real world.
The advantages of virtual learning include giving students liberty to learn at their own time and space by way of long distance learning with no physical boundaries; acknowledging the learner as an active participant in the learning process; providing students and teacher worldwide exposure through the Internet from any where and at any time; introducing students and educators to education technology that reduces efforts of completion of any assignment; providing online tutorials on a larger scale by giving students user IDs and passwords with which to login for online programmes; encouraging digital and smart classrooms with provision of recording lectures digitally for multiple uses in future; and requiring lesser infrastructure and hence lesser cost.
However, the advantages of virtual classroom are far outnumbered by the disadvantages such as lesser control over students or classrooms and over the learning atmosphere; lack of accessibility to computers and accessories due to disparity in terms of availability of digital devices in rural and urban areas, electricity supply, socioeconomic groupings, tribal populations and vulnerable groups etc.
Virtual classrooms are expensive for many students who suffer from loss of real- time teaching-learning experience, as a lot of peer interaction and student-teacher interactions taking place in the real classroom do not happen at all in the virtual mode.
Other drawbacks of virtual learning include surfing of the Internet for unrelated material by the students, absence of values and morals, poor credibility of course material from a pedagogical viewpoint, and little scope for student assessment. The virtual mode is also unfriendly for the differently-abled students who have different learning needs.
The real classroom, on the other hand, is a teaching-learning process that involves a formal set-up, i.e. an institution, a classroom, a teacher, students and other such facilities that require transaction of knowledge and skills and co-curricular activities.
Such a process is a constant in both the approaches of real classroom learning, whether teacher-centered (conventional) or learner-centered (modern). In both approaches the teacher plays a crucial role and therein lies the teacher’s indispensability.
The modern learner-centered approach with its focus on ‘whole learning’ includes an array of teaching-learning practices like spaced learning and tech-based learning. In spaced learning, space for activities is given between learning subjects as per availability of slots in the institution. This spacing enhances learning as students take more interest in intermittent activities and learn concepts better. Student engagements such as activity or project-based learning and practical learning or demonstration-cumpractical learning are pivotal for enhanced learning. Similarly, techbased learning involves use of information and communication technologies (ICT), including the use of online mode as a supplement in real classroom teaching-learning processes. In both learning conditions, it is the teacher who guides the students to become involved and observe and conceive concepts of their own and take it to the point of development of full understanding.
The advantages of real classroom teaching-learning, whether conventional or modern, are such as offer students the opportunity to have face-to-face interaction with their peers and teachers leading to socialisation and development of inter-personal skills and professional connections. It predicates involvement of teacher and students in formal conditions and in the working hours of the institution where students get opportunity for hands-on and structured learning.
The added advantages are promoting collaborative learning that happens from peer-to-peer and more particularly in larger groups where “every student is teacher of the other”; enhancing critical thinking skills; improving social skills through real and inclusive classrooms representing the real world where students of all backgrounds and abilities co-exist in the education; developing organisational skills; undertaking modifications in teaching style by the teacher to suit the disparate needs of learners; and developing of personality and skills of students through involvement in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.
However, considering that imagination and commitment to decentralisation of education is the need of the hour, a blended mode of education is certainly unavoidable. The adoption of online education needs to be done with utmost sensitivity since there is little role of teacher and the teacher is not guiding the students directly. Pedagogic material must be made available in different languages and if possible then in different dialects which will certainly extend access and make the content user friendly. This will address the issue of staff shortages that afflict teaching-learning process in remote institutions.
Now that educational institutions have reopened, extreme caution is required for continuation of online teaching-learning. It could be provided under the guidance of a teacher and along with realclassroom lectures. The laboratory programmes and academic research require provisioning of direct instructions and mentoring. If this can lead to the emergence of a new pedagogic paradigm, we would have made the sweetest use of this adversity of the pandemic and this could be the emergence of new era of education. — (The writer is a former Director, (DAE) MHRD & former Dy. Adviser, Niti Aayog)
Six-fold role of a teacher
The aims of education are expected to reflect, besides its lasting values, the current needs and aspirations of a society, facilitate socio-economic progress, lay bare opportunities for groups and individuals to achieve greater access to entitlements and livelihoods, enhance efficiency, augment democratic participation, upgrade the overall quality of individual and societal life; and, above all, foster international cooperation.
Educational institutions particularly schools which are associated with real-time classroom teaching and learning are expected to not just impart education in its narrow sense but to mould children’s attitudes by integrating humanitarian values in the curriculum.
The role of teacher as an instrumental tool in transacting modern teaching-learning practices has grown to a large extent in the preceding decades and, considering new socio-economic developments, a teacher has not only to update himself/herself on one front but also has to open up many new dimensions of professionalism so as to impart better education to his/her student.
In a nutshell, the teacher has to play a six-fold role of (i) Prompter, who encourages students to participate and guides them to proceed in an activity in any mode of learning; (ii) Resource Centre, who is ready and available to offer whatever academic and co-curricular help required by learners; (iii) Assessor, who sees the performance of learners in their classroom interactions; (iv) Organiser, who chalks out plans to ensure student learning and feedback through better organisation of pedagogical practices; (v) Participant, who is ever willing to help in improvement of the overall atmosphere in the class; and (vi) Tutor, who acts as a coach when students are involved in project work or self-study.