During the lockdown period, I was confined to my house in a remote village about 60 kilometers away from Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. My village had electricity and a mobile network but not broadband internet service. Within the house, only the 2G network was available. I often went to the rooftop where I could access the 3G network. The 4G network was not available on my network. Initially I just checked my email as the mobile internet service was expensive and recharge cards were not easily available. So, I just used the mobile internet service to retrieve essential documents from the cloud and (to) update emails.
After one month of lockdown, my campus asked me to continue to provide learning support to my students. I started to reflect on the opportunities and challenges of my online teaching. I completed an online teacher training course from the University of Oregon in asynchronous mode in 2013. My M. Phil. study at the Nepal Open University on open and distance learning with synchronous and asynchronous modes is currently underway. I have learned about the opportunities and limitations of virtual learning environments from these programs. I am familiar with Moodle, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, and Google Sites as online learning tools.
I had arrived at my home just a few days prior to the lockdown. I had not expected the possibility of a lockdown. I went home without any resources to attend to a family matter. I had several challenges to teach remotely because I was not mentally and physically prepared to take classes from my home: I did not have broadband internet service, my internet service was unreliable, I did not have a laptop, my students did not have access to MS team or Moodle, I did not have virtual teaching experience and my students did not have any experience with virtual learning, and finally, I did not have a course book. For two weeks, I was reluctant to teach because of the poor internet network and the cost of the mobile network. However, my mobile service provider announced availability of the mobile internet service pack at a discounted rate for teachers and students. My university recommended me for this discounted package.
I decided to beat the challenges. I found that my smart phone got a stronger signal on the roof of the house and that the 3G service was available there. So, I decided to place it on the roof and make it a Wi-Fi hotspot for other devices. I bought a 15 GB mobile internet pack for four weeks. Now I did not need to worry about the internet. However, my internet service was unstable. I found that if I reconnected the devices with the mobile data service, I would get a stronger internet signal on my smart phone. I learned to reset the mobile data service to enable a signal. I managed to borrow a laptop from my brother to use at my home. After updating it with recent software, it worked well for me.
The challenges did not end here. Another challenge was connecting with the students who were scattered in remote areas of the Himalayas. I tried to contact them on their mobile phones. I could contact only a few students, because the mobile network was poor and sometimes unreachable. I asked one of my colleagues to connect with students on Facebook and create a closed group of teacher and students. He created a virtual group and we were connected on Messenger. I asked him if he would provide a free conferencing tool for the students. He introduced them to Zoom and began some lessons with this tool. I joined some of his classes and I already knew how Zoom worked. We had already used Google Classroom as a Learning Management System for those students while we taught face to face before the pandemic.
I asked one of the students to scan the pages of the course book and email them to me. In this way I was able to collect the text materials needed for the lesson. In addition, I searched some additional content on the internet. Four students attended my first virtual class. We worked hard to encourage other students to attend the virtual class. As a result the number of students increased day by day and reached 20. However, half of the students were still not connected to the class mainly because of the poor internet service. Only a few could use broadband internet, while most depended on a mobile data service on their smart phone. I experienced frequent network disruptions. I rejoined the students several times because they experienced disconnections due to the unstable internet. Students often told me that they could not hear my voice.
I attempted to make my virtual class interactive, so I frequently checked if they could listen to me. I recorded audio clips of some classes and posted them on the Google Classroom site. I also posted the summary of the lesson on Google Classroom so that students could access it whenever they had better network connectivity. We continued online classes. However, the number of students started to decline.
When the monsoon season began around June 10, electricity services became unreliable. As a result, mobile phone and internet services were disrupted. Besides, almost all of my students belong to farming families and had to support their families in the fields during the monsoon season. Not surprisingly, they often felt too tired to attend classes. Now some regularly attend classes but others appear only occasionally. I guess heavy rain, floods, landslides and increasing cases of the corona virus in their neighborhood affect their motivation and ability for regular attendance of virtual classes.
Transition from face to face classes to an online class environment is a challenge in itself. Our education system in Nepal is not prepared for virtual teaching and learning yet. What we are doing now is attempting to minimize learning losses due to the global pandemic. This involves unplanned initiatives in an attempt to overcome resource constraints in various areas. However, this pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to reflect on our teaching and learning skills and to minimize learning losses and also to survive professionally.
As I engage in virtual teaching with these students, I remember the faces of those who have not been able to attend online classes. One day the situation will be normal. We will meet again and have face to face classes. At that time our virtual teaching learning experiences will certainly be helpful for us because we will have learned new ways of teaching and learning. Moreover, after the pandemic, we should have more resources for both teachers and students.
Krishna Prasad Parajuli is a lecturer of English Education at Drabya Shah Multiple Campus, Gorkha. He is the Vice-Chair of NELTA Gorkha, Nepal and a member of IATEFL. He is an M. Phil scholar of English Education at Nepal Open University.
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