There are many obstacles to make digital teaching and learning effective and working.
With COVID-19, the scope of teaching and learning has drastically changed all over the world. Real face-to-face education delivery has all changed into virtual classrooms and interactions. This has posed more challenges than opportunities, especially in the developing and poor nations.
A teacher teaching online has to design, facilitate and manage learning using programs such as Google Meet, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. When a teacher teaches behind doors being only with students he/she is invisible to outsiders and normally there is no recording of what he/she says in the classroom. However, when you teach in a digital environment, normally all the classroom teaching and interactions are recorded and any students can take pictures of the screen and record themselves in their own devices like mobile phones or laptops. Not only that, at homes of students other members of the family may as well sneak peak and even listen to the whole teaching time and processes. In this sense, the teacher is more exposed to the outside world. For this reason, the teacher has to make lessons that are transparent and ensure that there are no 'extra-unnecessary' talks. Further, the teacher has a challenge to demonstrate their quality and scholarship in delivering and handling digital contents.
For some teachers who are not that used to using mobile phones and laptops for teaching and learning activities, digital teaching can be scary and they may feel hopeless and nervous. In a recent Zoom meeting of college teachers of one institution, a teacher commented that using Microsoft Teams was going to be a nuisance and that it would not work. The belief system of a teacher matters a lot. On the basis of the teacher's belief, delivery of teaching varies. Dr Caroline Steel, a teacher and a digital expert, very rightly puts that 'teachers who hold beliefs that are teacher-oriented and content-oriented tend to adopt teaching strategies that seek to impart information and transmit knowledge. Teachers who are more focused on how to facilitate understanding and augment conceptual change tend to employ more student focused strategies'.
If a teacher believes the digital programs are there just to give him/her extra trouble, they will not much bother about learning how they can be used. Therefore, there is a challenge in the first place to motivate such 'negative' teachers that the programs are useful and can successfully be used. On the other side, students, too, may not feel that comfortable to be exposed on webcam. I recently had a privilege to observe one online class of grade nine. To me, it sounded more like a 'radio-teaching' except that there were few exchanges between the teacher and the students. In that particular class, there were no visual aids presented, neither could I see anybody on the video—not even the teacher. Later, the teacher told me that the teenage students felt very shy and awkward to be seen on webcam and also there needed to have strong internet connection. Here there is another challenge of stable and strong internet connection. Likewise, one major-English student of Bachelor's level lamented that her mobile had only two-Gb ram and that if she used it to turn on the video, it would get heated in no time and would turn off automatically. Another problem is of possessing a decent device that operates well and lasts long. Another BED student who hailed from far-off village said that there was no internet connection there and that the family could not afford to buy the mobile data which would be used up much, much earlier than they expected. So there are many obstacles to make digital teaching and learning effective and working.
Teaching in the first place is a complex and complicated job as it involves humans and different individuals may have different needs and support of different kinds. To give every student the best, a teacher requires to prepare a well-blended lesson plans and apply different strategies of teaching. However, a teacher's belief and their knowledge on the subject matter and delivery affects teaching and learning activities. In this sense, a teacher may follow mostly only one way or practice. In other words, he/she may focus mostly on one theory. Talking of theories, anything a teacher does may fall into certain theory, whether they are aware of it or not. For example, if the teacher is leading all the time in his delivery of teaching and the students remain passive and simply follow their 'master', it falls under the theory of behaviorism. Likewise, if the teacher gives extensive opportunities to students to learn and discover by themselves, it falls under the theory of cognitivism. Similarly, if a teacher allows their students to critically think, reflect, collaborate, make use of the students' prior knowledge and have interaction, it falls under the theory of constructivism. Next, if a teacher teaches students that there is so much knowledge out there with people, technologies and the search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo and that the students should connect to wherever knowledge is available and get the information they need, it falls under the theory of connectivism.
A good teacher is supposed to make lesson plans that best addresses his/her students and deliver efficiently. However, in the pandemic situation, digital teaching is easier said than done. On the one hand, there are a significant number of teachers who are either digitally illiterate or semi-literate and other the other hand there are problems of unstable internet connections and poor or no modern devices in the hands of students, especially in the country like Nepal. That is why, it will take a while before digital teaching and learning becomes a 'new normal' for teachers and students. As there is no choice and way to escape, with Nepal government's announcement that the teaching and learning should continue making necessary arrangement for teaching online or through radio and television, the teachers and students should begin slowly and give continuity.
The phrase they use in the international arena of digital teaching and learning is "less is more" meaning, teachers, don't try to do too much online, as it is not a normal class. To hold the students' attention, give less until they ask for more.
The author is a freelance writer and life member of Nepal English Language Teachers' Association (NELTA)