APPLICABILITY AND CHALLENGES OF E-LEARNING TOOLS IN THE CLASSROOMS OF SECONDARY SCHOOLS: A COMPARATIVE STUDY BETWEEN ASSAMESE AND ENGLISH MEDIUM SCHOOLS

Narji Baruah
Department of Education, Tezpur University, Tezpur, Assam, India
and

Rupjyoti Saikia
College of Teacher Education, Namrup, Assam, India
 

Abstract

Electronic-learning involves learning through various Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as internet, audio/visual aids, projectors, CD- ROMs etc., which facilitate classroom teaching-learning as well as self-learning. Though e-learning has been introduced as a classroom tool or strategy, there are certain disadvantages and hindrances in using it, particularly in terms of language teaching in classrooms of secondary schools especially in a state like Assam. Nonetheless, e-learning has a vital role to play in effective teaching and learning. But when we look at the entire teaching-learning process of secondary schools, we find a different scenario in English and Assamese medium schools in Assam. 

Key words: e-learning, classroom situation, infrastructure, ICT, effective teaching

1.Introduction

The term e-learning first came up in 1999 in CBT systems seminar in Los Angeles. It was first called ‘internet based training’, and then it came to be known as ‘web page training’. (Khosrow-Pour, 2005) It involves learning through electronic applications and processes. Various ICTs such as internet, intranet, extranet, audio/visual aids, projectors, CD- ROMs, satellite T.V, slides, language laboratory etc. are used. E-learning creates a different environment to which we are used to. It provides a lot of facilities to the teachers and learners. With the use of e-learning tools, the role of the teacher has changed. Now, teachers and textbooks are not the sole material available. The students have developed confidence in themselves resulting in self-learning. And also, this has led to the contribution of the collaborative work between the teacher and the learners. E-learning tools indeed have improved and are improving the modes of instruction. The advent of science and technology facilitates this by opening wide range of e-learning tools. The e-learning classrooms consist of- teacher, student, the technologies and course material. (Kumar, 1996).

The objectives of using e-learning tools are- to develop new methods of teaching, to make the teaching learning process more effective, to develop interest among the students, to provide knowledge of various fields to the students etc.

There are many advantages of e-learning tools in the process of education. For instance,  the use of e-learning tools is cost effective as information can be easily distributed among a large number of students via slides, audio/ video cassette etc. It is not necessary to have face-to-face contact between teachers and students; it is convenient because students and teachers need not have to buy or carry books and copies, instead they can use the e-learning tools and can reach any part of the world for information. Through e-learning technologies varied and detailed information can be obtained very conveniently. In comparison to that of traditional learning system, e-learning tools reduce the learning time as learners can focus on the main points easily and skip those they already know. Unlike the information provided through lectures by teachers, the information can be replayed, re-winded, and paused in it via such tools. Hence it is quite easy and quick to find the needed information. These tools motivate the students as the texts are represented in a more colourful way. It helps in longer retention of information provided to the learners as well as innovations can be brought in the secondary classrooms and thus it makes the teaching learning process much easier. These advantages contribute to the applicability of e-learning tools in the classrooms effectively. But, these applications of e-learning tools are sometimes challenged by various factors. The availability and use of new technologies stands as one of the main factors in this regard. It becomes complicated if a fixed schedule is not followed, if there is high interruption in power supply. Use of e-learning tools is not fruitful when the teachers and the students do not have any prior experience of the technologies used in the classroom. Along with these, some other problem results with the high cost of digital libraries, computers and internet connection etc.

2.Objectives       
This article basically aims at making an experimental study of e-learning tools, their applicability and the challenges in the classrooms of secondary schools. The study is an attempt to highlight on the findings from the study to be made between the English and Assamese medium schools. Towards the end of the paper, some strategies are recommended for improving e-learning application in the secondary schools.

3.Methodology
The present study area covers five (three Assamese and two English medium schools) Secondary schools of Tezpur, Sonitpur district of Assam. The population for the study covers six teachers and fifty students from the targeted schools.

To bring the study both primary and secondary data were used. For primary sources, questionnaire administration, interview session with teachers, class observation etc. were carried out while ELT books, papers, articles were consulted for secondary sources. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to analyse the data and findings.

It needs to be mentioned here that the size of the sample is considered according to the time constraints.  Therefore the findings cannot be generalized for all teachers and learners.  Again, all the information provided by the school authorities during the survey may not be purely authentic as they were informed before the researchers visited the schools.

4.Results and Discussion

E-learning plays a vital role in effective teaching and learning. When we look at the entire educational process of secondary schools of Tezpur, we find a different scenario in English and Assamese medium schools. In English medium secondary schools, it is found that a wide range of e-learning tools are used to teach the students. In comparison, there is lesser use of such technologies in Assamese medium secondary schools because of various factors. In this paper we are confining our research/survey to the following five schools of Tezpur, Assam:
  • Don Bosco H. S. School
  • Gyan Bharati Academy
  • Tezpur Govt. Girls' H.S. & M.P. School
  • Tezpur Govt. Boys' H.S. School
  • Tezpur Jatiya Bidyalaya
4.1 Study of English Medium Schools

Applicability
English medium schools use different types of e-learning tools to enhance the classroom environment.

i)Don Bosco School
Don Bosco School is located in Paruwa Chariali, Tezpur. They use computer, internet, projector, T.V in their language classrooms. There are 5 technology aided classrooms where students can learn the English language effectively. Teachers with the help of these technologies teach pronunciation, new words and sentence structures etc.  Real-life situations are used as examples to communicate among the students. For this purpose they are permitted to use internet. In this way the learners develop their speaking skills, use new words etc.

ii)Gyan Bharati Academy
Gyan Bharati Academy is located in B.P Tinali, Tezpur. In this school, English is taught using the blended method. Every classroom is facilitated with projectors. Teachers lend slides to students, films with English subtitles, and songs with lyrics are used to teach the language. This motivates and develops interest among the students. Students are assigned to give PowerPoint presentations for the internal assessment marks. This helps the teacher to know the fluency of the students in English language.

As most often problem arises when the teachers and students lack computer education but in these schools computer is a compulsory subject from primary level itself. Since they know the use of computer, even if the teachers and students face any kind of problem in handling the tools they can surf their problems in the internet and can find solution to it. In most of these schools teachers having computer education are employed, so there is no question of mishandling of the tools by them. They are trained enough to teach the students through e-learning tools. Both these students and teachers are comfortable with such tools. As the students belong to educated families or whose parents are responsible enough, the students do not face any difficulty in using the tools. They are free from technophobia. This strengthens the teachers’ teaching skill; they do not have to take the responsibility of introducing e-learning tools to the students. The monotonous method of teaching fails to hold the interest of the students. So, innovative methods are highly needed in the education process and e-learning tools serve this purpose. The students of these schools are always ready to accept new modes of teaching and so the teachers are successful in the implementation of this method. Observational research shows that students find these tools helpful as they can refer practically to the theoretical things. Apart from these the students find it useable as they can work individually and in groups. If we go by David Crystal’s views on technology, internet has encouraged a dramatic expansion in the variety and creativity of language. So in the language classes of Secondary schools the internet helps to learn new words, spelling and pronunciation. Hence, to this extent e-learning tools are applicable in the teaching learning process of English medium secondary schools of Sonitpur district.

Challenges
However, these schools face certain challenges in using the tools.

i)Don Bosco School
Teachers are of the opinion that at times E-learning de-motivates the students when there are equipment failures caused due to frequent power cut and other technical problems. Students moving from the general classroom to the technologically facilitated one and to settle the mind take away half of the time allotted for the class. This is why the teachers are at times reluctant to use these tools.

ii)Gyan Bharati Academy
In this school, it is found that due to the use of blended method, the slow learners or students with bad study habits cannot cope up with this teaching mode. So, it stands as one of the hindrances. Another significant problem which is seen among the students is that they seem to be more interested in operating the tools rather than gaining information from the source.

4.2 Study of Assamese Medium Schools

Applicability
There is less use of E-learning tools in Assamese medium schools due to various factors.

iii)Tezpur Jatiya Bidyalaya

This school is located in Nikamul, Tezpur. Teachers use technologies like radio, television, and recorder. Movies dubbed in English language and cartoons, fairy tales in simple English are shown to the students. Recorded poem recitations are brought in the classrooms to teach the poems prescribed for the English text. This in a way inculcates confidence among students to use the language.

iv)Tezpur Govt. Girls' H.S. & M.P. School
It is unfortunate to mention that this school uses very few e-learning tools in language classrooms. The factors behind are that the teachers are unskilled to handle the technical devices, students mostly hail from poor areas having no connection to technologies and the traditional kind of classroom not supporting e-learning tools to be initiated. The case is more or less the same to (v) Tezpur Govt. Boys' H.S. School.

Challenges

iii)Tezpur Jatiya Bidyalaya
Though all the classrooms are not well equipped, there are computers with internet facilitated classrooms. But due to the lack of computer knowledge of teachers these classrooms are not used. In this school, Computer is an optional subject along with Hindi, Geography and Advanced Mathematics but they opt for the other three subjects than Computer. Even if some students will to select Computer, due to lack of qualified teachers, the students fail to do so.

iv)Tezpur Govt. Girls' H.S. & M.P. School & (v) Tezpur Govt. Boys' H.S. School
It is found that the required components of an e-learning classroom are not present in these schools in a uniform time. The teachers’ ratio in comparison to students is less. This is one of the reasons why e-learning method of teaching cannot be applied in these schools. Again, teachers who followed the traditional methods of teaching for years find much difficulty in using these new tools and methods. They face a kind of anxiety within themselves and learners too who don’t have any idea regarding these tools finds them complicated and difficult which lack confidence in using them. Therefore, this anxiety acts as a de-motivating factor in the effective teaching learning process.

The concept of using e-learning tools in the schools is quite new. Many teachers are not proficient in using them for which they need training. But in doing so a good amount of time and other resources are wasted. For such trainings, there is not much time in the academic year since the syllabus needs to be covered in the fixed time period. Again, teachers and learners of the Secondary Assamese medium schools are not comfortable with the English language, but to use the e-learning tools English language is very much needed. The students of the Assamese medium schools are mainly from families who are not so highly educated. Parents cannot guide their children in the proper use of the tools, as they themselves are ignorant of it. Besides, to use the e-learning tools the classrooms needs to be well equipped. It is found that the infrastructure of most of the Assamese medium schools is poor. They lack in adequate facilities like projector, computers, TV sets etc. Computer is not a compulsory subject and if it is, they lack to follow the routine or in managing the tools. However, in some of the Assamese medium schools where e-learning tools are used, it is not encouraging as the learners cannot cope up with the teaching pace.

5.Policy Implications
From the study it is found that in spite of the applicability and challenges of e-learning tools, some strategies can be applied through which its applicability can be improved. For a better outcome in secondary schools irrespective of any medium, blended teaching should be used where traditional methods are used along with the electronic technologies. Teachers should have adequate training for computer education. Workshops, seminars should be arranged on the use of e learning tools.  TV sets and computers have to be installed in schools to provide opportunities to students so that students may arrange for audio visual tools; teachers’ can send slides to the students. Moreover, there should be provision of internet in all classes, there should be provision for computers per student and there must be computer technicians in every school.  Adoption of e-learning tools requires training and development opportunities for both the teachers and the learners. Computer education should be one of the compulsory subjects in the schools from primary level itself. The Government should provide training for the teachers and there should be implementation of funds to purchase e-learning materials which will eventually result in an increased use of e-learning in secondary education. E-learning tools should be available in regional languages. 

6.Conclusion
From the above discussion we can deduce the conclusion that e-learning is an electronic learning process in which teaching and learning are given in a computerized form. The texts, audios, pictures, graphics and videos can be at once presented online to the learners. Education is given through different electronic appliances like recorder, audio/video cassettes, camera etc. It introduces new ways of teaching and learning. It bridges the gap between the teacher and the learners. It is a different approach from that of the conventional one. It is an effective method in curriculum implementation. The e-learning tools are applicable in the sense that it is learner-centered. Learners have the autonomy to choose the learning content. This leads to develop confidence and motivation in them. The main purpose of e-learning is to transform the old methods and approaches and to make the process of education interesting. But it should be noticed that in such process the curriculum should be followed or else it will not be fruitful. The excessive use of e-learning tools shows that classroom education system will not be the same in the coming years as internet and other technological tools has dominated the same.

E-learning tools are applicable as far as the parents and teachers are concerned with the use of it. It is seen that parents, be they educated or uneducated, intend to send their children to English medium schools. This is why e-learning tools are more applicable in English medium schools. Lack of proper curriculum also stands as barrier in the use of e-learning tools. Proper training is required for both the teachers and learners. The classroom should be monitored often. Again, some introductory classes must be allotted so that the learners develop familiarity with the e-learning tools.

Use of e-learning tools helps in making the classroom environment interesting and active. It updates the learners with the latest information of the world. Another advantage of using e-learning tools is that it provides better support for the less abled. It engages students who do not respond well to traditional teaching method followed in the classroom. It provides opportunities for the fast learners and helps in developing independent learning skills with the proper guidance of a skilled instructor/teacher. E-learning will be beneficial in these secondary schools if it is used properly. In Assamese medium schools complicated e-learning should not be used. It should be such that the tools should not create fear among the students, instead help them. Again, in both the mediums the, e-learning tools should be used from the pre-primary level itself so that they have prior knowledge of the tools being used. There is a great problem of electricity in Assam. Even if a school has e learning tools but if there is no electricity or there is load shedding at frequent hours of time, there will be difficulty in the teaching learning process. So, to avoid such circumstances, there must be provision for generators in order to have regular power supply and continue the teaching learning process with such tools. Provision of security for safeguarding e-learning materials, training & retraining of teachers through seminars, workshops and conferences etc. are needed.

References
  • K.L. Kumar (1996). Educational Technology. New Delhi: New Age International Publishers.
  • M. Khosrow-Pour (2005). Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology. USA: IGI Publishing Hershey.

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