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New beginnings: How teachers are keeping up with the digital age

What happens when teachers become students? New lessons are learnt and educators stay a step ahead of changing times

education Updated: Feb 23, 2017 15:54 IST
Alifya Poonawala
(Illustration: Shrikrishna Patkar )

Bindu Kulkarni was teaching a class of Post -graduate management students at the S.P.Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), Andheri when something caught her attention that would change her days to come. A student was using Google to cross reference a topic she was teaching.

Kulkarni, knew her methods were no longer as cutting-edge, and attention spans in class were dropping. The Googling kid was the last straw. “Initially, I was concerned but eventually, I realised that it was not about me or any other teacher. Students progress with time but we teachers have failed to keep up to speed,” she says.

To address concentration levels in her students, she signed up to study Gamification Techniques on Coursera, a portal that offers massive online open courses. The course was designed by the University of Pennsylvania, ran for 16 sessions over five weeks and opened her mind up to new levels of audience engagement.

“It taught me that interactivity is a crucial part of engaging with your crowd. So, to keep my students involved and interested I introduce interactive exercises periodically in many sessions,” Kulkarni says. The professor is an Associate Programme Head of PGDM at the institute.

“Students now hardly need teachers who can just deliver conceptual knowledge as their gadgets can help them find it easily online,” Kulkarni believes. “The challenging task is to rise above the utility of technology. It’s harder than ever.”

More and more educators across India are going back to the drawing board, refreshing (and sometimes rebooting) their skills to keep up with a generation that finds knowledge with a swipe on a touchscreen. Professor Andrew Thangaraj, a faculty member at the department of Electrical Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras says that of the 65,000 students who enrolled this year, 37,000 are registered college professors. He is also a part of the founding team of National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), India’s largest portal for online courses, partnered with the HRD ministry of the government.

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DIGITAL ACCEPTANCE

Two key factors fuel this U-Turn back to school. Many professors have realised that the scope of their subjects has changed drastically since they last studied it. Many others are looking to update their teaching method itself. And in both cases, they’re finding hope in technology.

Last year, Pranoti Kale, professor in Business and Data Analytics at Bhartiya Vidyapeeth College of Engineering, Pune, took a course on Twitter Sentiment Analysis at chalkstreet.com, a Bangalorebased online portal.

“Twitter has made it easier to understand popular consensus and market mood without having to go through hassles like collecting questionnaires and taking personal interviews, which are often long and repetitive,” she says. She now encourages her students to use the 140-character medium to learn about market trends and business planning and also teaches them little tricks on how to generate the right keywords. It makes students feel like their subject is relevant to the digital age, she says.

Many concepts can be explained to students more clearly with the help of the digital media, says Kale. “Now, it is up to the teachers to discover these little gimmicks and help students.”

Vijay Anand, the founder of Chalkstreet, says that the increasing number of teachers signing up for online courses is mainly because the flexible timings fit into a busy schedule. “They take up minimal time and commitment, but give you everything you need to know about the advancements in a field in a short time.” Anand calls them “micro-courses” because they are a capsule version of longterm courses. RECOVERY MEASURES At the electronic engineering department of SIES Nerul, a professor’s newly updated skills are filling in when the syllabus falls short. Siva Kumar Elangovan, who took an online course in Basic Electronic Circuits, uses contemporary case studies to illustrate optimisation techniques in circuits.

“Imagine you are sitting in the control room of a taxi service like Ola,” he says, drawing on the example he used in class. “Your job is to assign drivers according to the customers during peak hours. You also have to ensure minimal fuel use, least time taken for an overall trip, consumer preferences and other conditions.”

He used a hypothetical set of solutions called Call Taxi to make the best use of resources, Your methods as a teacher need to be certified from wellknown universities and should add value to your profession; otherwise, you will never know if they are actually helping the students or are just a waste of time. time and customer engagement and adds it can be applied to other situations in the engineering field too. “These little hacks are what our syllabus misses,” says Elangovan.

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AT THE RECEIVING END

As more teachers go out of their way to make students better prepared for their future, it’s changing the idea of education itself.

“Survival of the fittest is the motto for thriving in any field,” says Fatima Agarkar, educationist and co-founder at KA edu-associates in Mumbai. “Implementing out-of-the-box techniques of teaching in a class is required, sometimes even more than textbook knowledge.” She adds that teachers have to be on the forefront of driving change.

But Agarkar cautions against anarchy – surely every teacher tinkering with the syllabus, however well-intentioned, may snowball into disaster. She recommends vetting the sources from which new information is being sourced. “Your methods as a teacher need to be certified from well-known universities and should add value to your profession; otherwise, you will never know if they are actually helping the students or are just a waste of time,” she says.