Teaching and learning in Ghana’s tertiary institutions and for that matter, most tertiary institutions around the world, are typically characterised by in-person meetings between lecturers and students.
In this setting, lecturers generally mount platforms to deliver lessons to their expectant students. There is always a natural feel to this encounter as students laugh to half-cracked jokes, feel more at ease – aside truant students who equate being in class to capital punishment – and those distracted are reconnected to the class. The feeling is, however, different in a virtual environment. And not only is it different, but lecturers tend to have little to no control over the class.
Virtual teaching, as well as virtual learning, has become a necessity for both lecturers and students following the suspension of academic activities and the subsequent temporal shutdown of both public and private universities by the government as a measure to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country.
In a bid to ensure the continuation of academic work, the Ministry of Education through the National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE) has directed Universities to have lecturers conduct classes online. What this means is that a lecturer at the University of Ghana, for instance, will henceforth be doing a great deal of virtual teaching or online teaching, as most people prefer to call it.
Now while some lecturers may have some experience in facilitating online classes others may not. With that being said, lecturers with little or no experience in conducting online classes are advised to not reduce virtual teaching to the mere upload of PowerPoint presentations and assignments, for students to do all the menial work.
Lecturers in conducting their online classes are encouraged to engage students in interactive sessions using the chat room functionality that comes with all virtual platforms.
In this discussion, we share with all lecturers five easy tips to aid them to adapt to and effectively conduct virtual teaching irrespective of the online platform being used.
Rule 1 – Make your online teaching personal
There is no need to be strict and all official as you often are during classes back on campus. A virtual class is different from in-person meetings and as such you must try your best to make it as personal and lively as possible. Although the apparent physical and psychological distance may prove to be an obstacle, lessons must still be delivered as though your students were seated right in front of you. During teaching, it is best to imagine the reactions of your virtual learners as would be the case during in-person meetings and administer to their needs accordingly.
For enhanced personal connection, instruct your virtual learners to turn on their video functionality. Pose questions to your learners in the course of the class and call on them by names to respond to them. Please do not leave all the menial work to students, it is easy for lecturers to reduce their work to the mere upload of slides and assignments with stricter deadlines. We are in a trying time and the best you can do is to desist from compounding the burden and confusion of your learners. And remember, being too official and strict for your online teaching will make you lose the attention of your students (after all you’re not physically present to control them). So we suggest you dress a bit casual to convey warmth to your students. This we believe will enhance the connection between you and your virtual learners.
Rule 2 – Use chat room to make it interactive
A remarkable class is an interactive one. Learners are able to remember a majority of lessons learnt when the course facilitator makes it more interactive. Remember, you are not on the platform to dump whatever lessons you have prepared on your virtual students. Every virtual platform comes with a chat room functionality that enables parties using the virtual platform to effectively interact. Lecturers should make use of the chat room to interact, ask questions as well as proffer solutions to questions. With the right attitude and tools, we are convinced you can make your virtual class just as interactive and engaging as ever.
Please refer to your students by their names – particularly those who usually do not speak during in-person class sessions – as you are likely to get their full participation if you do so.
Using the chat room will also help you address the individual concerns of your students, perhaps there was a portion of your lesson he or she found confusing. Get everybody on board
Rule 3 – Ask for feedback and be used to the delay
Solicit feedback from your students with regards to your lessons and please be used to the delay experienced during virtual interactions. Due to the poor internet connectivity in the country, response to virtual communications might take forever, but learn to be patient.
And while being patient, try soliciting ideas from your students on how to better improve your online teaching to help enhance their understanding of the lessons prepared.
Virtual teaching and learning have become the new normal for students and lecturers alike and it is imperative that we quickly adapt to derive the maximum benefits.
Perhaps this is the opportunity Ghana has been waiting for to transform its educational system.
Rule 4 – Add fun and elements of graphics
It’s boring to have to scroll through tens of slides of plain text over and over again for the entire duration of a class. Which is why as a lecturer, you need to introduce some fun and excitement. You could occasionally introduce .gif images, memes, or hilarious 1-minute short clips while teaching and learning is on-going. This is just like cracking jokes during in-person meetings with students back on campus. Students love such things and it helps sustain their interest in the lessons you have prepared for them.
Rule 5 – Motivate students by giving out awards
Everybody needs recognition and loves to be recognised. Students like to be rewarded for their consistency and hard work since it drives them to perform better. Evaluating the performance of your students at least twice a month helps keep them on their toes and drives healthy academic competition among students. For instance, maintain an online leader-board of the top 5 performers after every quiz and make the points visible on the side screen during virtual lectures. This will help motivate your students to learn and perform better in subsequent tests.
The world will not be the same after the coronavirus. It will take years to heal our lands and perhaps decades to build the economies that will be shattered by the pandemic. But at the moment we need to be used to the new normal.
Remember that everything has both positive and negative sides. Stay positive and endeavour to make your mark.
About the Authors:
The author, Dorcas Abedu-Kennedy is a journalist with The Multimedia Group, specifically Adomonline.com. She writes articles about social justice, education, and the environment. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
The author, A. KwabenaBrakopowers is a development communications practitioner, journalist, essayist and a novelist whose works focus on gender, migration, international relations and development. He can be reached at Brakomen@outlook.com