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The future of education is here

Paving the way for democratic classrooms in the new normal

MS

Mihika Shankar

Oct 30, 2020

Lights, camera, action! That is how most teachers jumped feet first into the new normal, with only a few weeks to gather their resources, re-package and re-deliver it for their suddenly remote learners. The luxury of proximity and rapport that the traditional chalk-and-talk way of teaching offered them has now given way to a more chaotic and uncharted territory of exclusively online learning . This paradigm shift of sorts has presented us with several opportunities to move away from the pedagogical past that our education system is steeped in. A case in point has been re-defining the role of our teachers from being purely authoritarian figures to that of enablers of democracy in the classroom, even on virtual platforms.

However, the sudden shift from the conventional mode of learning to virtual classrooms demanded self-regulating and responsible behavior of the participants for its effective implementation. Four enterprising learners from Grade 7 at HLC International (Sahana, Nilashree, Mahalakshmi , and Girinandhini ) that go by the moniker of the Netiquette Team, put their minds together to ensure unbridled learning and to encourage meaningful yet restrained conversations in the virtual classroom. The Netiquette initiative has been shortlisted under the Social Impact Project category, in the final round of Bengaluru Schools Education Initiatives (BSEI) online Expo . The young minds under the guidance of their enabler and learning facilitator Srilakshmi tackled the new normal with creative methods and paved the way for democratic classrooms.

The New Normal as a Welcome Change in Education

By no means is online learning new to learners or educators, but it is the compulsion to adopt it exclusively in times of the pandemic that makes it challenging to wrestle with. Studies show that fully online learning communities or FOLC - based learning environments have been conducive for fostering transformative learning. They facilitate the exploration of divergent perspectives, problem-solving, and critical thinking in learners. The pandemic has enabled the integration of digital technologies in learning and exposed everything that was wrong with the education system in the first place. It also provided us with an opportunity to raise responsible, empathetic and self-regulated citizens of the future . The Netiquette initiative is a standing testimony that putting the responsibility of self-regulation on digital platforms in the hands of the students themselves helps to develop essential life skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, empathy and online etiquette.

Discipline through Freedom and Democracy

The transition of learning to Google classrooms encountered a rather predictable yet excessive problem. During online sessions, the active participation of learners in the chat box often gave way to digital noise. It became extremely cumbersome for the teachers to locate important messages in the information clutter and respond to multiple students on speech and text. However, disabling or eliminating the chat box was out of the question as it hindered the democratic nature of classrooms and curtailed the freedom of speech and collaboration of the learners. It was when the educators opened up about this dilemma to the learners, the bright minds put forth the solution as self-regulation and netiquette.

The POWER Plan

Experts often view the ability to self-regulate as a desirable quality because of its positive effects on behavior and the acquisition of skills. The POWER Plan designed by the Netiquette team is a sustainable solution to facilitate democratic spaces in the online learning platforms. The acronym POWER stands for the attributes used to moderate conversations:

P - Performance

O - Obedient

W - Win

E - Extraordinary

R - Records and Rewards

The Netiquette team adopted the principle of Design Thinking and consulted with their facilitators in HLC to emerge with better iterations of the chat box designs. The innovative chat box provides features such as:

  • Tags: To encourage users to tag their chats with T (thought), Q (question), or A (answer) to streamline conversations. Not only does it help facilitators decide whether to address the chat immediately or not, but also allows the learner to decide for himself or herself if the message is worth sending at all.
  • Analysis: A detailed analytics dashboard on the number of messages/tags used in a session.
  • Notice and Reminders: Help in assisting the overall user experience for the students.
  • Rewards: The system awards learners who scored high on the helpfulness scale with badges. It is a way of keeping consequences positive rather than penalizing defaulters.
  • Power Jar: Incentivizes and compliments people who have worked or helped with the responsible use of the chat box.

screenshot

Biweekly(and need-based) meetings were held with the class teacher to assess the situation, track progress, get motivated, address emotional challenges such as facing backlash from peers or friends, and most importantly to discuss the things that worked and did not work with the facilitators and learners. After every spell of reflection, their initiative went through enhancements and embellishments making it more and more splendid and effective. The efficiency of the POWER Plan was put to the test in September 2020 and the brainchild of the young prodigies came off with flying colors. Online learning experience had effectively gone from an instructor-centric model to a peer-to-peer learning model with the backing of the Netiquette initiative.

Our Future is in the Classrooms

Although the sudden shift to online learning comes with its fair share of challenges, we are already seeing the profound impact it is having on learners. When the four students revealed their POWER plan to other facilitators seeking their support as stakeholders in the process, they received an overwhelming show of support for their empathetic and meticulous approach to the problem. Even many of their peers came out in encouragement of their efforts and offered their solidarity and cooperation in running the initiative. The success of the Netiquette initiative reminds us that even the unprecedented times that call for meticulous reforms in both personal and public lives, can be transformed into an opportunity to inculcate empathy and cooperation in children .

In the words of the celebrated Greek philosopher, Plutarch: the mind is not a pail that is waiting to be filled, but rather a fire that is waiting to be kindled. Education in the time of the pandemic has been afforded the opportunity it needs to let go of its purely pedagogical roots and democratize the classroom in radical ways. By vesting the power and responsibility of decision-making in the hands of the learners as is developmentally appropriate, we are making classrooms safe and democratic spaces for learning.

Read more about the Netiquette Team and their initiative on their website .

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