When Savitri Devi of Khambal, Rajasthan, decided, in 2015, to sign up for a training that advocated a new method of teaching and learning, she was sceptical. She was not sure as to whether she would be able to implement it in her classroom. Similar were the fears and apprehensions of Maitri from Mizoram; Rajkumar from Assam; Devdoot from Maharashtra; and many other teachers from Chattisgarh, Telangana, and West Bengal. They had inhibitions towards contemporary techniques which promote a more active and participatory form of teaching and learning. While face-to-face training and periodic onsite support are good ways to build the required confidence and skills for these teachers from remote locations and steeped in traditional forms of teaching, a platform for continuous engagement with experts and colleagues was necessary.
Building digital bridges
Etienne Wenger, the renowned educational theorist, described communities of practice as ‘groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.’ Could this approach be implemented with the teaching community, especially when they are spread across the country? How could teachers be provided with an opportunity for continuous interaction with experts, despite geographical limitations? The Tata Trusts used technology to overcome the challenges.
Creating ‘peer-ful’ environments
In the Connected Learning Initiative (CLIx), subject-based practice groups have been established with teachers from Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram, along with trainers and professors from Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru. There are 18 active groups across these states which include teacher-educator groups, subject-teacher groups (Mathematics, Science and English) and technician groups. Messaging services such as Telegram and WhatsApp, Twitter chats and blogs are some of the applications used for having asynchronous interactions. These groups have become a space for sharing and learning — with teachers expressing their concerns uninhibitedly, and reflecting on suggestions received.
The engagements in these groups revolve around how teachers can and are transforming their teaching practices from an instructive approach to a more exploratory one. Science teachers are deliberating on whether they can narrate incidents from eminent scientists’ lives to generate greater interest and curiosity among their students. The positive interactions within the group platform are having a ripple effect as teachers are now attempting to replicate a similar environment in the classroom.
Acceleration over communication freeways
In another programme — Tejas, the Teacher Activity Groups (TAGs) use online platforms to complement the learning material for English language instruction. Prospective modifications to existing material based on their own classroom reality are discussed and deliberated. Approximately 500 teachers in Maharashtra are using Zoom calls, Google Hangouts and Skype discussions to exchange classroom experiences, concerns and solutions to develop their skills. In a non-threatening environment, teachers find it easier to share potential fears and worries including ‘forgetting students’ names’, and ways to handle them.
In the Integrated Approach to Technology in Education (ITE) programme, approximately 2,500 teachers participate through communities using interactive online platforms including WhatsApp and Moodle. Participants share school photographs, upload documents for review, record voice messages and discuss inputs and feedback among colleagues. Details of various activities conducted around the programme, such as exhibitions, summer camps, and student competitions are shared, paving the way for vibrant participation.
Through these initiatives, the Tata Trusts have leveraged technology positively — to bridge physical distances and establish avenues for communication and exchange. When used specifically for the professional development of teachers, this has seen a growth in this community, in terms of exchange of ideas, voicing doubts and concerns fearlessly, knowing that professional assistance is available in real-time and taking advantage of it. Yes, it is sometimes an uphill task to initiate discussions and increase the participation, especially when the technology itself is unfamiliar. Teachers accustomed to social media platforms such as Facebook are definitely more comfortable interacting in these groups. However, this mode can act as a major catalyst for stimulating a consciousness of continuous professional development among them.
The names of people have been changed to protect their privacy