The Pandemic, Thames and Online Learning….
As we formed resolutions for the year 2020 and hoped the year would go smoothly, the world was hit with a global pandemic, namely the Covid-19. Were we ready for it? Absolutely not! But just as the world managed to adapt to the new normal, we did too. There were many trials and turbulences along the way, but just as Franklin D. Roosevelt says, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
With all the research and experiments, we tried, failed, tried, and eventually managed to make learning easier and more accessible amidst the pandemic. Technology has always played a major role at Thames. Be it attendance, using Google Classroom to Google Drive, our faculty members, as well as the students; have always been familiar with learning using technology. However, these resources were used to ease the physical classrooms rather than as primary mediums of learning. Transitioning from face-to-face physical classes to learning entirely online was new for both the faculty members and the students.
The first week of the Pandemic and lockdown were spent processing the news, brainstorming, evaluating the current situation, and on strategic meetings with the faculty members. No one could predict how long or short the pandemic would last, nonetheless, we had to stay primed for uncertainties. After back-to-back rigorous meetings, a decision was made to run experimental online classes. The purpose behind the classes was to fathom the loopholes and the flaws of conducting online classes and to compare the effectiveness and efficiency of onsite physical classes to the ones online. Feedbacks were acknowledged and decisions were made to overcome the defects and upgrade online infrastructure.
The biggest goal amidst and after the lockdown was to enhance the online learning practice in a way that would allow students to experience the online platform similar to onsite classes. In the course of experimenting and implementing, each student from different departments was contacted to identify their current location and their accessibility to the internet before officially commencing online classes. After verifying their accessibility and inspecting the practicability of running classes online, Thames International College decided to collaborate with Fusemachines. Fusemachines is a US-based company that specializes in Artificial Intelligence intending to enable access to AI technology.
A shift from onsite teaching to online teaching/learning with new tools and techniques was a modification both the teachers and students had to adapt to. Indeed a process of transition with trials and errors along the way. Through constant coordination among the faculty members and the students, training on how to’s and what to’s related to the online learning platform was conducted. Already familiar with technology-based facilities at Thames a generic two-hour training was carried out which included online assignments, attendance, recording, grading, chats, and announcements which before could be done physically.
With constant consultations and discussions among the head of departments, faculty members, and students, complications resolved quicker. Messaging groups were created with students, technical assistants, teachers, and respective heads of departments; so that issues and problems concerning the online platform could be communicated thoroughly and studied for further improvements. Bearing in mind the internet accessibility for the students that were out of town, concerns related to availability was one of the key issues which were resolved by providing students with recordings of the classes every day.
News circulated that the pandemic could be persistent. Debates around when and how long education institutions should continue with online classes spread as precise pronouncements regarding exams, online classes, and class schedule were not assured. This eventually led to major concerns related to digital fatigue. Classes would run back to back every day except for Saturdays, with continuous classes, readings, and assignments on-screen, exhaustion due to maximum screen time began affecting the students. After a few confrontations among students and faculty members, a decision for a two-week semester break was applied. Class timings were designed with the consensus of the students and the teaching faculty. Shortly, classes recommenced with slight modification in the schedule. To combat digital fatigue, classes would take place with breaks in between and the number of classes was reduced to two classes a day.
With the idea of staying connected and inhibiting monotony and ‘, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, the Student Affairs department along with student-led clubs initiated numerous events. To ensure they felt as little a difference in their academic periods online and offline, we continued conducting educative and creative events like French classes, online music jams, poetry sessions, and other creative competitions.
With the drive to provide the best experience at Thames, we are still learning, unlearning, and relearning every day, and in the process of so Continuous Communication, Persistent Effort, Constant Feedbacks, and the Internet certainly has employed crucial roles in making online learning possible if not fruitful.
A few testimonials from our students’ share –
Parisha Bhattarai (BBM 1st Semester) – “As effective as a physical classroom. If we don't find it effective, we are not listening or are too lazy to stay active. I think more strictness should be followed by the faculties so that students don't/can’t bypass the learning time. It has helped me become an independent learner”.
Prajwol Ghimire (BIM 8th Semester) – “More effective than the physical classroom, it should be continued as learning should not stop and we do not know when we can come back to physical classroom
Choden sherpa (BASW 4th semester) – “Slightly less effective than physical classroom as poor internet connection can create problems sometimes”.
Likewise, we have Ms. Grishma Ojha (teaching faculty, Bachelors of Social Work) who shares her experience and articulacy with online teaching – “The online classes came with their own perks and challenges. Online teaching is obviously very different from physical classes. However, as a Social Work faculty, I would prefer having a physical class as that will provide a large amount of in-person interaction that helps to establish a rapport with the students, which is also necessary to adapt to the students. Physical classes encourage a lot of fluid discussions which get lost in the transition in these online classes. A lot of times, it is difficult to know if the knowledge is being delivered and understood in the right way and also to identify if the students are actually listening to you. On the contrary, online classes actually ease the process of providing learning materials, video lessons, online resources, and more importantly, a student living remotely will not have to miss a class if there aren’t any network issues. Nevertheless, the teaching modality should be updated time and again to keep students engaged and curious. However, for a fact that the effort and hard work put by both the students and teachers on both sides should not be forgotten because we are still adapting to this new classroom experience.”
Mr. Arpan Upadhyaya (Head, Department of Business and Technology) had been passionately planning to initiate digitization in teaching that would adopt new approaches and methods of teaching afore the pandemic at Thames. He shares, the preparatory phase of online classes was reasonably hectic as the students were a little disinclined towards studying online as they perceived online classes to be ineffective compared to onsite classes. It became easier to schedule the classes and their timings once feedbacks and suggestions from faculties and students were evaluated. “Online Classes in Nepal and at Thames must be a way of learning now, as it connects students and teachers globally. Online learning has created a platform for the students to get connected internationally” – Mr. Upadhyaya quotes.
As we adapt to this new normal, we are still experiencing its pros and ploys. As we pledge to maintain the safety of our students and educators, we continue to provide quality education be it online or offline. Till then this learning experience continues ….The Pandemic, Thames and Online learning.