By Dr Shukla Sikder (pictured, inset), Lecturer in the Charles Sturt School of Education.
I teach approximately 300 students who are pre-service teachers or early childhood educators in two online subjects.
After four or five weeks of lockdown, I started to receive emails from students expressing their mental health issues and how lonely they felt as they could not have a social gathering.
One morning I received a phone call from a student who cried over the phone and could not talk properly, as she was very upset.
I usually provide the Charles Sturt mental health support links for students via weekly messages and email.
However, it was indeed a sad experience after receiving the phone call, and I thought I could do more to provide a positive experience for online students.
In each week, I usually do my online lecture using Zoom in the evening and after having the phone call I added a social talk for the first 15 minutes before my online lecture begins.
The first week was not very participatory and students were hesitant and did not talk much except to express greetings.
Then I added two questions for them to discuss:
- what activities do students like to do to make themselves happy during the lockdown? and
- do you have any free time to enjoy yourself apart from study, work, and managing children’s online learning during the lockdown?
Students participated very well during the subsequent weeks and I had to now allocate 30 minutes for our social talk.
Students shared a variety of experiences and their responses were interesting and joyful.
Some of them expressed that the questions helped them to think about their free time and ‘happy time’ during the lockdown and thus, they added something interesting to make themselves happy.
For example, one student restricted her half-an-hour coffee time, and no family members could interrupt her coffee time. Another student played a childhood memory game with friends and family members via messenger talk, and one student blocked out an hour to do artwork during free time.
Some students recounted that they had been waiting for their evening online class to participate in the social talk.
The most important thing is recognising that the students look happy, and they like to share their joyful moments with online colleagues.
Love and laughter occupied an important place in our social talk space, and my husband was surprised and noticed my laughter behind the locked door during my online lectures.
Two of my online subjects focus on inclusion and diversity.
We decided to have a class party as part of our social talk space in my last online lecture.
Thus, I proposed the theme ‘cultural inclusion’ in one subject, and ‘cultural diversity’ in another subject, for our class party.
Two questions were added to be prepared for the cultural night; which culture are you representing through your outfit? and, what is your ‘take-home message’ from this subject?
It was an overwhelming experience for me and for students too, and our cultural outfits along with their smiling faces represented a colourful and cheerful night for all of us.
Some students shared that the subject afforded them a unique experience as they never thought the online teaching-learning platform could be so interesting, engaging, and a cheerful space to learn.
I would like to add here that I did not have to provide any extra effort to create such a positive experience for my online students.
As a lecturer with five years’ experience teaching online, I also never thought that I could engage my online students, as I do my in-classroom students, with activities beyond those that directly assisted them to achieve their learning goals.
For example, for my on-campus students I conduct activities such as a class party or social talk, among other activities such as such as ‘icebreaking’ exercises, fun games and many more.
I received thank you emails, and phone calls from my online students as they found the lecture was indeed helpful to unpack the contents.
They also found the social talk made them cheerful which supported them to engage more with the online lectures or content.
I have learned a powerful lesson during this session’s online teaching in this lockdown that the social talk could support building a strong relationship with online students, and the cheerful learning space could create a two-way participatory teaching-learning environment in online space.
Thus, social talk is as important as teaching subject content to have an effective teaching-learning environment in an online space. Happy World Teachers’ Day!
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