The Best to make the Best | Daily News
Culturally Responsive Online Teaching:

The Best to make the Best

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the teaching and learning environment forever, not only in Sri Lanka, but also in the whole world. As we all are aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the closure of schools and universities across the world.

Accordingly, education has changed significantly with the distinctive rise in online learning, through which teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption of online learning globally with the use of language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, and online learning software. Online learning has power to move towards a more effective and efficient teaching and learning process in any situation, if we use it correctly with clear understanding. However, this fully online teaching and learning culture has popularly been put into practice in schools, universities, and all other teaching organisations of Sri Lanka from this interim crisis period.

This unplanned and rapid move to online teaching and learning with lack of understanding, no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation has caused poor user experience in online learning in Sri Lanka.

Commonly, one family of our society consists of primary and secondary schoolchildren and university students, as well as there are adults who work from home. Zoom has become a very popular online video conferencing platform by now, and people are now used to say that they are going to ‘Zoom School’. They wake up to begin Zoom lessons or meetings, and until late evening, they live with Zoom or other social media apps such as WhatsApp, continuing their education or work. This exhausting nature has been created due to less experience in online educational practices. Primary and secondary level schools have somehow started online teaching to ensure uninterrupted education during this crisis which should be highly appreciated. However, they are used to conduct online sessions according to their normal school timetables which has resulted in students staying online the whole day. Moreover, they assign too much homework as well. Hence, children find it difficult to manage their time and they also lose their leisure time. Many children are struggling, and parents are unsure how to help them. Hence, we have to be careful and understand how big and difficult this change has been for kids and their families. Some children tend to skip assignments or play online games during online studies as many of them are not used to learn in isolation. Like what was practised in physical classrooms, the teacher should provide guidance allowing students to feel connected to each other, and this sense of belonging influences students’ engagement in online classes.

In order to reap the best results through online teaching and learning, teachers should know the best practices in online teaching. For example, using new technology for online learning/e-learning require teachers to take on new roles such as facilitator and mediator. Teachers need to prepare for changing roles, from being an instructor who dispenses knowledge to a facilitator who guides and supports learning. Also, learners need to be reassured by teachers as they confront technological challenges. As an Asian country, introducing online teaching and learning methods into existing educational systems could be a challenge for Sri Lanka because of the behavioural patterns and attitudes such as cultural respect for the teacher, textbook dependency, and the test/exam-focused style of learning. Therefore, innovations or pedagogical methods and learning environments should be placed at the intersection of teachers’ and students’ educational philosophies, institutional systems and national cultural context. These requirements highlight the importance of having a culturally responsive online teaching and learning environment in Sri Lanka.

Culturally responsive online teaching and learning is the idea of being responsive to students’ academic and social-emotional needs. Therefore, primary, secondary, and tertiary level or higher education providers and their teaching or academic staff should offer “Culturally Responsive Online Teaching and Learning” procedures to make a new, more safe, enjoyable, and supportive learning environment. Giving considerable attention, care and planning, any educator who teaches online can create a culturally responsive virtual classroom, one that can provide a space where students feel welcomed and valued every day.

Following four elements of the “Motivational Framework of Culturally Responsive Teaching” serve as an effective guide for educators who teach online.

1. Establishing inclusion - Planning for the culturally responsive online classroom starts with course development.

2. Developing attitude - Helping learners to feel positive about the content and the learning process is facilitated by building on students’ personal experiences and knowledge.

3. Enhancing meaning - Making the learning process meaningful and engaging students in reflection and critical inquiry.

4. Engendering competence - Use of effective assessment tools that relate to the students’ backgrounds and allow them to demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways i.e. performance-based or portfolio assessments, student-invented dialogues, focused reflections, and journals.

Teachers, academics, or educators who teach online can examine their teaching practices using the following questions to see whether they have implemented a culturally responsive online teaching and learning environment or not (adapted from Christy M. Rhodes and Steven W. Schmidt):

1. To establish inclusion, how do I acknowledge the cultural identities, such as racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and gender identities of my students?

*How do I learn about my students and what they feel about the learning experience?

* How do I encourage my students to connect with their classmates?

* How do I ensure that students feel free to point out class policies that they feel are discriminatory or biased?

2. To develop attitude, how do I help learners to feel positive about the content and the learning process, in addition to the incorporation of learner autonomy into curricular planning?

* How do I encourage students to communicate with each other and with me on a deep and meaningful level?

* How do I incorporate materials and resources that represent the diverse backgrounds of my students?

3. To enhance the meaning, how do I help students to connect to the material in ways that are based on critical reflection and critical inquiry?

* How do I incorporate a variety of learning activities and instructional practices?

* How do I integrate practical applications into learning activities?

* How do I require students to examine the curriculum from multiple perspectives?

4. To engender competence, how do I use an authentic and effective assessment that allows them to demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways?

* How do I encourage students to take ownership of the learning process?

* How do I create space for students to assess their own learning?

Constructing trust in learning relationships is the foundation of culturally responsive instruction. So that high-trust, low-stress environments can help even marginalised students effectively and retain learned information. When students feel safe and trustworthy, we will have true learning partnerships with them; they will be more likely to take the necessary risks needed to learn.

Therefore, teachers should realise the importance of the social aspect of students for conducting online sessions. They can look for more ways to incorporate a collaborative online learning environment, including the Zoom breakout feature for smaller groups. Apart from that, teachers can use new engaging gamified options.

The use of the Quizizz platform to create free gamified quizzes and interactive lessons to engage any learner, use of annotation and whiteboard features for students to express their responses in real-time are a few such options. Furthermore, educators can use online systems such as GoSoapBox or Mentimeter to collect student responses. They can also use the chat function as a relay race where students take turns answering questions.

There is no argument that online teaching and learning is the best solution to face the prevailing situation in the world due to COVID-19 or beyond. Therefore, any educator who teaches online should take the necessary steps to introduce a culturally responsive online teaching and learning environment to make this new learning environment more safe, enjoyable, and supportive for our learners.

(The writer is a Digital Teaching and Learning Technologist and the Head/Senior Lecturer of the Library and Information Science Department, Social Sciences Faculty, Kelaniya University B.A. (Kelaniya), MSSc (Kelaniya), Ph.D. (VUW, New Zealand))