Sitting at home and watching the street below my window reminds me of impressionist paintings. In those paintings, no one was looking for the truth. The paintings were evocative and more than anything in reality, they made us aware of perspectives. It is this realization of a unique perspective that has prompted me to write on online classes.
I know for sure that this semester we can do nothing else. All of us are sitting next to a window and peeping out. The window we are glued to opens up endless space, not exactly the street below my window. It is this space that we call online classroom.
Truth, in the digital window, is dependent on perspectives. My perspective is that of a teacher who often disliked going out in the rain for fear of catching a viral infection. Delivering a lecture with a sore throat was quite taxing. Sometimes I had to take a casual leave.
A student’s perspective in this monsoon season is very different from mine. A student did not hesitate to go out in the rain. It was refreshing; even remaining in wet clothes was fun. The attraction in the institute was friends. Now, sitting in front of a window the student scrolls through the list of classmates while the teacher is blaring out some immaterial detail.
I have given up the thought of meeting anyone in person. I am terribly scared of viruses in general, Corona being a ‘deadly virus’ frightens me even more. I try to make myself comfortable sitting next to a physical window to let in the daylight and opening a virtual window to view all my students.
The various apps for online lectures provide many facilities. I found them very convenient for my purposes. My students live in different cities of the country. At the very outset, the first thing they lacked was borrowings from their seniors. Some books are not even available online. Notes are farfetched and photocopying the study material from teachers has become impossible.
The virtual classes come to their aid in this matter. I can share images of my books and notes. I can even start presenting on screen an image of the page I am reading from. I have also been able to share links to websites which earlier I used to mention in my class and the students had to look up by themselves at home afterwards.
Another great advantage for teachers is the option to mute all the students. In this relieving feature I find great solace. I don’t have to shout ‘stop talking’. I just observe the bobbing green indicators and press mute. I used to speak loudly to be heard above the din from the compound, even when the students of my class were silent. Now, I speak as if I am talking to only one person in a closed room.
I also found the lectures going smooth as I am not distracted by other sights. In screen sharing, I sometimes have an unnerving fear that maybe no one is listening to me. I do not know how many students are online. I do not know if my voice is audible to all. I speak like a mad person oblivious of the presence of a listener.
There is very little eye contact. I have noticed that the natural tendency is to look at the lower part of the screen where the other participants of the videoconference are visible. The camera of the device is usually on the top. For my audience, I am not looking at them and for me, well, they are all looking at their screens and not me. If the network is awry, the voice is followed by a delayed lip movement: sound travels faster than light in the digital interface.
Not only the eyes and lips, I feel saddened by the fact that all my students are just floating heads, severed from their bodies. Some faces are so close to the camera that only the lips or only the nose or only the eyes come across the window. I can count the number of hairs on someone’s eyelashes if I choose!
I have shared a digital whiteboard for grammar lessons. I hated my handwriting on it. The digital marker is very cute but the stylus in my hand goes haywire. I can’t rest my palm on the screen either. Now, when was I trained as an artist?
There are many additional advantages of online classroom if we prefer to record our lectures and upload them. In such an app the tests and quizzes are also very handy. I remember carrying bundles of answer-sheets back home to check. Here, I just set the quiz and also give the answer key. The students know their score as soon as they submit and I get the whole data in the form of a spreadsheet. If I personally grade them, that too is recorded by the computer. I find this kind of examination very effective and less cumbersome for the teacher. If open book exams are the in thing, I am not going to be anxious. I feel I can invent any kind of tricky question under the sun if we can save paper and the burden of carrying them around.
As I said, all this is from my perspective. If I look at it from the learner’s side, I feel sorry. I feel that they miss the best part of education: the physical involvement. Matters like drama, event management, practicals, group discussions and most of all necking that marks the youthful phase are all marred by the ‘deadly virus’ that is ravaging human society today.