After the COVID-19 induced lockdown was imposed in March 2020 everything shifted online, almost overnight. The concept of remote learning was new for many students as well as for teachers, still people were coping with this transition. But have you ever thought about the instructors who teach hands-on courses such as fine arts, dance, etc?

Highlighting the challenges faced by performing arts teachers and students during this pandemic era, Professor Anuradha Jonnalagadda, Department of Dance, University of Hyderabad (UoH) gave many insights while addressing the 8th series of discussion forum for online teaching (DFOT) on December 6, 2020.

The DFOT is a forum for teachers in India from different institutions teaching different kinds of subjects, to come together and share their experiences about the challenges of online teaching and the ways in which they are coping with it.

“It was not a choice, we were forced to get into this online teaching mode. Initially, I was quite reluctant because majorly all my courses were practical. But then I got into this. There was some kind of a hope that by June, 2020 we will again get back to the physical classes before the new semester begins. Over the period of time, I realized that though the beginning was a little frustrating because I was not used to teaching online, but it improved. We missed the open space in university where I used to conduct classes,” said Prof Anuradha.

She added, “During the online sessions, I lost the comfort as I couldn’t teach the fine gestures by which the students could understand that how the posture should be, whether the hand should go up or not, where to look or whether their posture is proper or not. In the classroom atmosphere I can see all my students in one frame but in the online mode, I have as many frames as the number of students and there it gets difficult. To overcome this problem I tried putting them in different groups of four or five students maximum. By these small solutions, the pedagogy started evolving gradually with time.”

“In a physical class,” Prof Anuradha said, “there is a singers supporting the dance of students. They would be singing and I would be demonstrating and the students are learning. Its a smooth, easy process. But now the chunk of new items that I would teach them has come down drastically. I have to make it into very small units, so I teach them six-seven steps only. Another issue is the space constraint; as all my students come from different backgrounds. So I modified the timings of my classes in such a manner that all of them can avail their terrace space for dancing. I have both synchronous and asynchronous classes. Asynchronous classes include recordings: separate for dance and background music, that I share with all the students either on email or whatsapp at regular intervals.”

She continued, “When I am taking their live classes, I ask them to sit closer to their screens, as many of them do not have a laptop and use their phones for the classes, due to which I cannot see their faces clearly. After this I explain them the meaning of the song that we had planned to do that particular day, then I go into the gestures detailing, followed by the spatial directions and at last I show them how it happens and ask them to do it. That way it is almost five-six steps that it would take to teach a small piece to the students. It is effective for us and the students also put their heart into it.

“Now the evaluation part comes in different ways,” she said adding, “For instance, if they have to learn a particular jati, I will write the notation of the entire jati and then send them through whatsapp, and ask them to work on that and come back and discuss about it in the next class. Another problem is the time frame. Most of the times I don’t know whether the steps are matching with the time or not. So to overcome this issue, I asked them to record their dance videos and share with me. Once I get their performance video, I make a video call and talk to them and make the required corrections. It is however, very time consuming in comparison to physical classes.”

Winding up her talk, Prof Anuradha said that regardless of everything, nothing can replace the essence of physical classes, open atmosphere for a performing art student and teacher. “However, I was quite surprised when one of my students said that they were quite happy to see the professors interact and teach for so long in a day. We somehow have settled after one semester has almost ended. But, the new batch is again going to take time settling with the online mode. So what I have done is recorded a set of videos for them and hopefully they will also get used to this enivronment for the time being,” she added.

Contributed by Soumya Sharma, Department of Communication