Scepticism about online teaching in Pakistan comes from a simple fact: Most of the educators never chose to teach online before COVID-19. They were forced by the pandemic. Overwhelmed by the profound sense of ‘human loss’ many now feel paralysed, unable to tap the true potential of the virtual environment.

Virtual classrooms offer vast opportunities some of which are not even possible in a physical classroom; they do however come at a cost and need practice and pondering.

Effective online teaching helps instructors engage and motivate students in the virtual classrooms; facilitate greater student interest while indulging students cognitively rather than using hands-on experience. The University of Cambridge in Britain found online teaching so beneficial that they have announced the classes to be online until the Summer of 2021.

In Pakistan, although many varsities announced resuming on-campus classes this fall; this does not mean online teaching will vanish. Even if most varsities manage to welcome students on the campus; the ‘new safety norms’ and the social distancing will greatly reduce the capacity of the classrooms—a limiting factor even before the pandemic. Fear of catching the infection will deter several students from attending in-person classes. Consequently, for a foreseeable future; class physical presence cannot be a compulsory requirement. Universities will most likely be offering entirely online courses or courses with some of the students in class while others online. Hence, only teaching is here to stay this fall and well beyond.

Acknowledging the lack of human connection and the limitations of the virtual environment is vital. Instructor and student interaction can be delayed due to the nature of virtual communication. Gauging students’ interest in an online class is an uphill task as the body language is concealed behind the screen. Class chit-chat is missing. Most importantly, ‘Raza’—the backbencher student, never believes that the instructor is looking only at him.

Pre-class activities can help overcome these challenges. Arriving early for the class and posting a welcome message, activity, or an image can help students feel connected to their instructor. Asking outcome-based questions at the start of the class develops rapport. Posting printed notes to the students, providing them with a list of necessary materials before the class also pays dividends.

But technology may not always work as intended. Thoroughly pre-test all links. Provide an FAQ page and or troubleshooting guide in advance. Asking students to familiarise themselves with resources and tools before class can help reduce technical difficulties. Clear and specific instructions result in transparent expectations.

Online teaching requires a paradigm shift in the way teachers prepare for their classes: thinking about where they are going to spend time rather than what their students will do in the class.

During an online class, a balanced set of dialogues is essential. Student-student interaction occurs using break rooms, padlets, discussion boards, peer-review, and group me. They can summarise a topic and discuss it in breakrooms with their peers.

Student-teacher dialogues are generally based on the students’ expectations and discussions about the topics they are studying. There are several forums available where the students and teachers can discuss after class without sharing their contact numbers. Edji.it, edpuzzle, remind.com, and peergrade.io are of some of these.

Instructors can find students’ response about a particular problem through Zoom polling, zoom recording, and zoom whiteboard. Teachers can share their expectations through the Learning Management System (LMS), syllabus, rubric, and feedback. Teachers can also access the preparedness of the students for a class using polls or questionnaires within the LMS or Zoom. Misconceptions interfering with the course learning outcomes can be debunked. Google Forms, Poll Everywhere, or Survey Monkey can all be useful tools for this activity.

The “blackboard does not draw it all” seems to be the prevailing tendency at the educational institutes. The faculty are pressed to incorporate online teaching when developing their pedagogical strategies. A strategically planned online class, having a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities, promotes students to speak, vote, write, work in groups, and present their work from the comfort of their homes.

The faculty must embrace the new norm and its boundless potential.