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HindustanTimes Sat,22 Nov 2014

Learn, virtually

Usmeet Kaur & Rameshinder Singh , Hindustan Times   December 12, 2013
First Published: 10:14 IST(12/12/2013) | Last Updated: 10:17 IST(12/12/2013)

It’s a class that starts at no specific time, doesn’t end and the teacher is available even at night. In this age of stiff competition, quick access and paucity of time, online classes have caught on like nothing else, changing the very face of learning and education. They might have started as an additional help offering to the tech-savvy or students who are long distances away, but e-teaching is now at par with real-time classes. We talk to some ‘e-teachers’ and their students to find out what hooks them to this virtual world. 

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In today’s busy age, there are very few teachers who go the extra mile to benefit their students by enhancing their way of life. However, Pratibha Panghal, 52, an English teacher and supervisor of publications at the DAV Public School, Amritsar, has made an inspiring effort by creating pages catering to English teaching on the social networking site Facebook, since April 2012. From offering tips to encourage reading, writing, photography and much more, Pratibha stays connected to her pupils.

“Students are learning many new words and ways to express things that help them improve their writing skills,” says Pratibha about a page that she has made for creative writing. On the page, the teacher regularly puts updates that suggest putting of captions on pictures and other ideas. The best posts from students are also published in the school publication. Taking her real class to online later in the day, Pratibha updates students on different movies, articles and books related to the lesson that she has taught in the day. “This process makes our lessons more interesting and vibrant. It also helps us score better as we are made to understand every lesson in the best possible manner,” says Shivam Aggarwal, one of Pratibha’s students.

An interesting page created by Pratibha called ‘Photo Fun’ has introduced the art of photography to her students, who are invited to post their self-clicked photographs on the page. The best pictures get selected and are displayed in the annual photography exhibition of the school apart from being published in the school publication. Pratibha seems to work on Maria Callas’s saying: “That is the difference between good teachers and great teachers - good teachers make the best of a pupil’s means, great teachers foresee a pupil’s ends.”

While teachers like Pratibha have taken to social media to help their students learn, there are others who have turned teaching online into a profession, thereby earning a fixed monthly salary too! Chandigarh-based Sunita Kadian, 50, is a freelance English language and soft skills trainer for corporate workers and college students. Though she has been teaching English for 23 years now, Sunita switched to teaching online in 2010, when she shifted to Chandigarh.

“As Chandigarh was a new city for me, my inclination to surf the net increased. Soon, I found out that online teaching is the best way in which I can impart education to students whilst being in a new place. Fortunately, a lot of guidance and support was provided to me by the WizIQ team, whose platform for online teaching I associated with. Initially, I was a little apprehensive about the success of teaching via the net, but my confidence grew when I realised that I am instrumental in bringing about a transformation in the students who undertook my courses from across the world,” says Sunita, also a visiting faculty at T.I.M.E. (Triumphant Institute of Management Education Pvt. Ltd), Chandigarh.

“One of my courses, ‘How to speak English-Personalised Coaching’ is very popular these days as it offers one-on-one customised coaching for people from different walks of life. Recently, I started another one for working professionals, called ‘Fine Tuning of Business e-mails’,” informs Sunita, who earns as much as `25,000 a month after putting in about 10-12 hours per week.

Incidentally, her profession as an online teacher also helped give a new lease of life to Sunita. “Last August, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in stage 3. Except for 3-4 days that I was undergoing chemo, my online classes kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to think of my disease. It turned out to be a blessing for me and kept me going,” she smiles.

Sunita’s dabbling in social media has helped her dispel English language information to learners in Russia, France, Spain, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

For Delhi-based Prof B L Raina, 73, a mathematics teacher, there has never been a retirement from work, apart from an official retirement from his job as a professor at GGM Science College, Jammu (J&K). “After my retirement, I shifted to Noida and started teaching online. The platform I use to teach students globally is wiziq.com and the reason for teaching online is because my old students wanted me to guide them in mathematics. They acknowledge that the teaching of mathematics outside of India is not as good as it is in India. So, I decided to remain a part of the education world even after my retirement,” he says.  

While Raina started with free online classes of maths, wherein he would take two free online lectures a week and the number of attendees would be about 25, he now also charges for his classes. “These classes are interactive, live and educative and the level of these is comparable to IIT teaching,” claims the professor.

Raina says it gives him immense pleasure to help any student or teacher in clearing their doubts or concepts wherever they maybe, and whenever the request comes in. “Apart from monetary benefits, with my monthly earning touching `15,000, I am happy to be engaged in a work that gives me the satisfaction of contributing to the society. I also interact with teachers of mathematics the world over to find means to improve the quality of teaching in general and teaching of mathematics in particular. I help them use available softwares, some of them free, to improve conceptual teaching of mathematics,” he adds.

If one were to weigh the pros and cons of real classes versus online classes, there it would be difficult to reach a conclusive judgment. “Online learning is beneficial for students, but it cannot compete classroom learning. Online teaching can only strengthen the present quality of classroom teaching and not replace the charm of face-to-face interaction between a student and teacher,” says Rajneesh Arora, vice chancellor, PTU (Punjab Technical University), Punjab. However, to stay abreast with the popular online learning culture, Rajneesh concedes they have put some changes in place. “Today, the increase in the number of students pursuing science and technology isn’t directly proportional to the number of good teachers. So, PTU is now focussing on developing online course
content. All colleges affiliated with PTU are to make 25% of their course content available online,” he adds.

While teachers might be divided on their opinion about which of the two forms of learning is better, most students find e-learning much more convenient and easier to grasp. Affirms Ankur Sharma, a student of Class 11 (non-medical stream) at Sri Guru Harkrishan Public School, Amritsar, “Meritnation.com has got me hooked. The reactions and processes which are not clear to me through study materials become easier through the videos on the website. The tutor, through the videos uploaded on the website, explains the processes practically and that develops my interest, helping me grab the concept easily.”

E-learning is set to take on education, it seems!

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