Four reasons how digital learning platforms are changing the L&D space – by Shivangi Gupta

Over the past few years, there has been a decided shift in teaching and learning preferences in India. With an increasing number of people and organisations moving towards online learning and especially online-blended learning, India has come a long way. There are primarily four factors which have advanced the advent of online learning in the country.

Improved teaching quality

For the longest time, online learning meant gamified and gimmicky apps or video-based content. Over the last decade, that has changed to include several education leaders investing in the development of effective teaching and learning methods for online learning.

Modern EdTech platforms are enabling this revolution with platforms like Zoom are used for delivering live online classes. Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning will further empower teachers as they can use data to respond to learners’ micro-needs, and educators will be able to use this data to develop their product-learner fit to a higher degree.

Remote working flexibility

So much of today’s work in done via email, Skype or Slack. It is natural that training delivery also becomes virtual. The need for adapting to online learning is even greater now, given to the enforcement of social distancing and working remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This pandemic has increased the urgency around the conversation on online learning and the digital divide across the world. In the scenario where traditional education institutions like schools, colleges and coaching classes are forced to shut shop, online learning has come to the rescue.

Adopting robust online solutions for learning are a necessity now than a luxury. Just like the flipped-classroom approach, COVID-19 has flipped our understanding of online-learning which was limited to continuing education through distance learning.

Tech is the new norm

It is predicted that by 2050, 280 million job seekers will enter the Indian job market. 2020s will be the first decade that Gen Z, the generation that grew up with smartphones, will join the job market. For them, it is a core part of their personal and professional lives. If companies are to attract and retain this talent, they must differentiate their employment offers by providing more and modern L&D opportunities like online-based learning classrooms.

Environmental factors

The companies of today are grappling with additional challenges such as climate change and security threats etc. Some companies operate in areas where it isn’t possible to fly trainers down. More organisations are turning to online delivery of their training sessions in such cases. Some studies have claimed online learning classrooms can be as less as 53% cheaper than offline alternatives.

The author is the Assistant Director, British Council Examination and English Services India Pvt Ltd.

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Turn into a global professional via this English language course; 6 things to know

Can your English language course transform you into a global professional?

Employers today demand much more from their workforce than simply gaining the right degrees. They require skills for the 21st century or ‘employability skills’ that go beyond subject matter knowledge. Employees who demonstrate these skills often have better job prospects. The G20 notes in its Skills Strategy report (2015) that having the right skills can boost earnings, enhance opportunities and promote well-being. Professional environments are shrinking, in terms of access, and expanding, in terms of newer connections, at the same time—giving rise to the need for enhanced workplace skills. Today, there are many ‘soft skills’ that enable an employee to stand out in the crowd, especially when the world has become more connected, and businesses more global in nature. What are these skills and how can employees acquire them?

Staying competitive with soft skills

At times, even good performers find it difficult to advance to senior positions due to a lack of soft skills. As businesses transform to keep up with changing technology and socio-economic factors and the demand for multi-disciplinary skills increases, employees too need to adapt their approach. Apart from domain knowledge, other skills valued by employers are communication, digital literacy, learning agility and cultural awareness (India Skills Report, 2017). Effective communication is one of the most sought-after job skills. In some cases, lacking the necessary language proficiency may become an obstacle to career growth. In a British Council study, employers suggested that good English language skills are important for promotion to supervisory or management roles (English Skills For Employability Report, 2015). As English is the language of global business, being proficient in it is important for employees. There seems to be ‘a critical need for English’ for career success in many sectors. Hence, English proficiency is not a choice, but a necessity.


In the business world, employees are regularly required to use video conferencing and email for day-to-day work. They may also need to use social networking sites and micro-blogs. Being collaborative and knowing how to use digital technology to communicate can help an employee bring additional value to the workplace.

How to get started

As a first step, you can access free language learning material online, including tools that can help improve reading, listening and pronunciation skills. However, taking a taught language course is likely to boost not just your overall language proficiency, but also employability skills. There are a host of courses available for employees to bridge the language proficiency gap, but the biggest challenge that people face is paucity of time. With ever-increasing workloads, expanding social circles and transportation issues, taking out time for additional practice is tough. This problem can be solved using technology. In a country the size of India, with improvements in technology and connectivity, online learning solutions are readily available for determined knowledge seekers.

Why go online?

First, the advantage of an online course is convenience and flexibility. Learners can study where and when they like. Second, an online language course can boost learners’ digital literacy, by guiding them on the rules of ‘netiquette’, or polite online communication, and maintaining basic online security. In addition to improving English, they learn to communicate using modern media. Given the proliferation of remote working, collaborative sessions and video conferencing, this gives them a competitive advantage to succeed in the workplace. Third, online courses demand learners be well-organised, motivated and have time-management skills. Successful online learners demonstrate learning agility; they set goals for themselves and know their areas for improvement. Thus, any good online language course also nurtures the essential skills of time management and independent learning. Showing initiative and self-motivation are highly valued workplace skills, and an online course can help you develop in these key areas. Another benefit is the exposure to language as it is used globally, and access to internationally-recognised course content. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have seen an exponential increase in student enrolment over the years, underlining the appetite for learning. While MOOCs may offer limited interaction, other more evolved online courses offer a holistic experience with interactive classes that allow for real-time feedback, an appropriate teacher-student ratio and interaction with peers—all ingredients of a real classroom.

Picking the right course

Committed learners have a plethora of choices, but need to invest in the right options; the right course can enhance an employee’s confidence. For starters, check the credentials of the course provider in terms of the number of years of delivering language proficiency training, the qualifications and profile of trainers, the teaching methodology and the availability of on-course support for troubleshooting, among other factors. Analyse the delivery mechanism to gauge the effectiveness of the course. Remember, while most courses will offer standard features and services, it is prudent to find out more about the class delivery, interaction and engagement, guidance, etc, to ascertain the effectiveness of the course. When choosing a course, focus on the additional value it offers to maximise the returns on time and money you invest. For instance, a carefully designed online course should offer access to world-class content and expose individuals to global standards of communication. In conclusion, each aspect of an online course mirrors the workplace routine of today’s competitive and results-oriented employees, who are required to display interpersonal skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills. In most cases, successful online learners can develop these useful workplace skills. They can also develop capabilities for future job roles, becoming adaptable lifelong learners. For this reason, both employers and employees should view online learning as an opportunity to hone their skills and embrace the new horizons it affords.

By Neenaz Ichaporia
The author is academic manager for the British Council’s blended learning myEnglish courses. Views are personal

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Taking an Online English Learning Course? Here’s Some Advice From Successful Students !

From facing issues in presenting themselves with confidence to handling communication in a second language with ease, British Council myEnglish students share the secrets of their success.

We’re in conversation with Bhavana, Nupur, Sayed, Ashvina, Siddhant, Saba, Priyanka, Ramchandra and Ritesh who want to share their experience of taking the online myEnglish course, and how to make the most of it.


British Council myEnglish

1. Know your motivations

Communication, career and confidence are the common threads that motivated our interviewees to learn.

Bhavana, a homemaker, shares a common problem: “There are times when I have to respond to queries or write a small note, and I find it hard to express myself. I find I can do it in Hindi but not in English – if I can feel a little more comfortable with English it will be a big help”.

Nupur, an artist, agrees: “I used to think people will make fun of me if I did not speak properly”.

Ramchandra, an engineer, Siddhant, a content writer and Ashvina, an assistant professor wanted to improve communication skills for their career. Sayed, who works in IT, says, “I could read and write well, but speaking was a major impediment”. As Priyanka, an entrepreneur, says, “I have to deal with a lot of delegates from all over the world on a daily basis and speaking English was my biggest hurdle”.

Saba, a post-graduate in English literature explains: “[English] is how you communicate. Therefore I developed an interest in learning the language”. Ritesh, a chartered accountant, says “I love reading books, travelling across the world to understand varied cultures and it’s been quite some time since I wanted to improve my language”.

All of them decided to take an online English course. This may seem unusual, but Siddhant says: “Initially I was a bit hesitant choosing this course as it’s online, but I went on to enrol on myEnglish after examining the pros of having an online class – like avoiding travel and saving time”.

2. Communication is the key

Develop communication skills by practising with others as much as possible.

Bhavana says “I could use the course to interact with my fellow students in English and not feel bad about it. For me, this was of great help because it showed me a good way of expressing myself in day-to-day situations. The other big merit is the chance to interact with fellow students who have the same problems”.

Saba agrees: “You learn to take turns, talk, have a discussion. Now, wherever I go for interviews, maybe I’m sitting in a team, discussing anything in a cafeteria, it helps me with the pattern that should be followed. This is not just about formal conversations; it is also about informal chat and everything else”.

3. Course design is crucial

Look for progressive structure and useful content. Having fun also helps!

Ashvina tells us: “Grammar topics were covered really well during our virtual sessions. These helped me in the successful completion of weekly activities. My writing skills improved significantly as well”. Ramchandra adds “The course is a nice combination of traditional and modern methods. Apart from language learning, it develops the skills of interaction, presentation and study with ethics”.

Saba says “I enjoyed the different types of topics taught to us via the language. I learned a bit about crime and law, health, sports, and media. The topics were unique, the way it was taught was unique”.

This impacts learning even after the course: “I have stopped reading books on grammar, even after all the hard work it’s difficult to grasp many rules. Instead, I visit the web portals advised of and do exercises with more comfort and enjoyment” says Sayed.

4. The teacher is a facilitator

Blog post image

A good course is not a one-way experience.

Sayed explains “It was not a ‘learn by rote’ methodology. I learnt many valuable things with fun, and I have always felt motivated as the teachers never dented my morale”.

Nupur adds: “My tutor has been friendly, helpful and effective in her teaching”. Ashvina agrees: “Our instructors were always ready to support us. They gave timely suggestions and feedback”.

5. Don’t be afraid to step into the unknown

Take risks and accept challenges when you are learning – embrace new ways of doing things.

“I was hesitant to join the course when I came to know that it’s online learning” admits Saba. “Obviously, the fun is about taking up challenges. I talked to many people from British Council, and they always maintained ‘It’s easy, you can do it’. There was a lot of support”.

Siddhant adds, “Virtual classes were something I was most hesitant about, but that ended up becoming the best part of the course. It was as good as a face-to-face class in the comfort of my house”.

“I got handy with the tools and technology” continues Saba. “That is one of the things which is much needed in whatever areas you want to apply them in, regarding your job or maybe even in your everyday life.”

6. Hard work pays off!

Taking a course makes a difference and effort yields results.

Saba notes “Now, if I go for an interview, I’m quite confident. The interviewer sees my CV, and the first question would be about ‘Oh! Have you done the British Council course?’ So it adds a lot of weight to my bio-data”.

Ashvina says “The results are amazing. I can read, write and converse in English with better fluency and confidence”.

7. The self-motivation factor

You get out of a course what you put in, and being independent and motivated is a success factor.

Bhavana warns “There is a lot of work to be done by the students on their own and there are no shortcuts”. Ramchandra counsels “Choose suitable resources, be honest to the trainer and work hard. It definitely leads to success”.

Ritesh echoes that: “Show perseverance. Complete the course with dedication, and you will soon see the difference”.

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Online language learning for CPD in low-resource contexts

Caldwell – Online language learning for CPD in low-resource contexts (PDF)

Presentation- recording

Development of English skills is a core area of focus for many Indian state governments interested in developing the capacity of their teacher workforce. The Teacher Professional Development Initiative (TOPDI) was a British Council pan-India pilot to offer a fully online English language course, combining self-access material with weekly live classes, to 571 state school teachers. An online course that can achieve positive learning outcomes in a low-resource context has the potential to impact the accessibility and scalability of language learning courses in India and the Global South.

The aim of the pilot was to gauge whether the design and the support mechanisms of the six-week course could maximise participation and retention and therefore successfully develop participant’s English communication skills.  Data around course access, attrition rates and completion were gathered, alongside qualitative participant evaluations (questionnaires, focus groups, forum posts) of the course experience.

Access and completion rates remained both fairly high and remarkably consistent for an online course. Participant’s self-rating of language ability rose significantly from pre-course to post course.  Ratings and qualitative feedback around elements of the course delivery model highlighted the successes of its design for maintaining and motivating access and completion. The evidence indicates that that this model for an online bring-your-own-device English language course can achieve significant results for language and skills development at scale and is therefore a potential delivery model for the Indian context and beyond.


Beth Caldwell is Head of Blended Learning at the British Council in India. She leads on the management, design and development of blended learning programmes, in particular ‘myEnglish’, British Council’s online English courses, which have welcomed over 4000 adult learners since launch in 2015. She has worked in English language teaching, teacher training and management in countries around the world since 1998 and has lived in India since 2011. Her professional interests include online and blended learning, materials design, quality standards and continuous professional development. She holds a Cambridge DELTA, has been a CELTA course tutor and is a certified e-moderator.

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Remote Teaching Communities: Lessons from British Council Blended Learning Courses in India – by Neenaz Ichaporia & Beth Caldwell

How do you create a cohesive team of teachers, across a country the size of India? How do you keep them motivated, without a traditional bricks-and-mortar teaching centre, meeting them face-to-face only a few times a year? This article discusses makes practical suggestions for managing the challenges, based on our experiences in India.

Over 20,000 learners engage annually with the British Council’s English Language Centres in Chennai, Kolkata and New Delhi. However, the demand for English courses is high in the other metropolises of Mumbai, Bengaluru and beyond. A suite of blended learning courses was developed to offer quality language learning opportunities in such cities.

When we started delivering myEnglish courses in May 2015, the team was small; an Academic Manager and two teachers. Since then, the team has grown rapidly to 16 teachers (and counting)!  The teachers are based in and around course cities, while academic management functions are carried out from Delhi and Chennai (north and south India respectively). Therefore, we adopted several teacher support resources to remotely manage and build our geographically dispersed teaching team. The varied modes of delivery outlined below were aimed at building a community, motivating staff in a relatively isolated teaching environment and promoting their professional development.

Online teacher support community

One of the first support resources we set up was the ‘myEnglish Teachers’ Café’, originally a Moodle discussion forum where teachers exchanged views on professional beliefs and experiences. Though this is moderated by management, anyone can start a discussion including teachers and operations staff. Typically for an online forum, while some members are very active and engage in detailed discussion, others are either ‘lurkers’ or do not engage. To boost participation and, as increasingly, teachers use ‘online social-networking tools to break the traditional isolation of the classroom’ (Menon & Varughese, 2013:80), we recently moved the Teachers’ Café to a closed Facebook group. This is also borne out by our finding that teachers make significantly more frequent use of an informal messaging platform than the Moodle forum (see below).

Reference e-Library

To ensure that relevant resources are available to our teachers no matter where they are based, we set up an e-library containing resources and reference material. It also contains links to videos and websites. To ensure that copyright is respected, only managers add resources to the library after careful screening. We send out regular email updates as new publications are added and teachers have made use of it, particularly when doing reading/research for their annual learning and development plans.

Teacher’s newsletter

This helps us deliver bite-sized news and development items on a bi-monthly basis. The ‘Blend-o-meter’ gives teachers a picture of the business and keeps them up-to-date with developments. A ‘Trending Topic’ directs teachers to discussions in the Teachers’ Café and invites them to share their views, while the ‘Development Dispatch’ section contains a link to a relevant development resource, e.g. a webinar, blog or article. Using Campaign Monitor (an email marketing application) to deliver the newsletter enables us to track engagement, including the number of teachers who view the newsletter and on which links they click.

Phone catch ups

We regularly call individual teachers to discuss course progress, admin-related questions and other issues. We aim to keep the tone friendly and approachable; appreciation of teachers’ work and support is given, as well as action points. We have found these are a valuable way of troubleshooting day-to-day issues that teachers face.

Synchronous online sessions

We hold monthly INSETT sessions on topics relevant to classroom/online learning pedagogy. We also host mandatory quarterly all-teachers meetings to share important news and celebrate milestones. Both management and teachers are involved in deciding on topics so it is not all top-down; teachers suggest topics through training needs analyses and individual learning plans. Where the management team perceive a critical need or skills gap, attendance is mandatory, while other sessions are optional. While attendance at mandatory and paid sessions is slightly higher, all sessions are very well-attended, probably as they have immediate practical relevance to teachers and they are involved in the planning themselves (Bolitho, 2014).

INSETT sessions are attended via video-conference (Adobe Connect and Zoom). We can share screens, links and documents and meetings are accessible via smartphone. We encourage teachers to use webcams when logging in to make the sessions as personal as possible. Adding a positive, personalised dimension to these meetings has helped to grow the team identity and foster a positive culture. As many teachers never meet face-to-face, the ability to see and speak to each other in these sessions also builds community.

Informal support group

In our experience, many important developmental and community-building conversations happen informally in the staffroom. Being able to talk to colleagues real-time is invaluable. This need led to the creation of a WhatsApp messaging group for teachers. Interestingly, this was a teacher-led initiative and we had not foreseen the preference for instant messaging over phone, email and the Moodle-based community. Teachers use this group to clarify points related to administrative and technical aspects of the course. By crowdsourcing ideas and tips, teachers have been able to resolve issues more quickly, and it has also enabled the academic management team to get a better understanding of the everyday issues teachers face. We have also found this group useful for signposting important news, emails and updates on other platforms, which improves the likelihood of them being attended to. Teachers also frequently share teaching- and technology-related links. This technology has an important informal, peer learning and community building function.

Peer observation and team-teaching

In training, new teachers are encouraged to do shadowing, peer observation and team teaching with more experienced teachers of both online and face-to-face lessons. This is underpinned by the principle that observation isn’t a ‘stand-alone activity’ and encourages sharing within a community of practice (AITSL). Teachers generally record their reflections on each stage of the lesson for later discussion, with the more experienced teacher providing support and developmental feedback. These have served to cement the peer support network. Given the success of this system, we plan to develop a peer observation network, so that all teachers can continue to develop through productive observation.

Scheduled city visits

We believe that face-to-face interactions still have a vital role in building interpersonal relationships, with both teachers and management finding these valuable. We have instated a programme of quarterly visits to cities where our teachers work. This has both formal and informal dimensions. On the formal side, we carry out observations of face-to-face lessons, feeding into the individual teacher’s learning and development programme. We also catch up with teachers over a coffee for a social, relaxed meeting. This enables us to further build relationships and community.

Emails

All teachers have a corporate email address through which we share official news, updates, course changes, documents and so on. Teachers are expected to check email regularly. However, as accessing corporate email requires several steps, we have found that some teachers do so less frequently and may miss important announcements. By signposting these on other platforms (e.g. WhatsApp, see above) we have managed to improve the access rate. We have also joined the mailing lists of teacher development sites (e.g. ELT publishers or British Council Teaching English) and share relevant sites, blogs and articles we come across with the team. Accompanied by a short note to focus attention on useful content, these serve as informal development tools.

To sum up, using a range of tools and platforms facilitated our building of a remote teaching team. The various solutions we use have helped us exchange important information in response to institutional or individual need and have facilitated learning and development and community building. We adopted varied channels for information to meet different needs and preferences. Mixing synchronous and asynchronous modes has ensured flexibility and immediacy of access. Smartphone-compatible solutions have also achieved success with our teachers, who value ease of access to resources. Making provision for face-to-face meetings (whether online or in person) was also vital. We have found that all modes contribute to socialisation, as long as they are not all top-down and that teachers are encouraged to respond to each other and share. Varying the interaction between informal and formal, mandatory and voluntary, individual- and management-led has allowed our community to build organically and in response to both personal and institutional need.

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References

AITSL, How-to’ Guide INTRODUCING CLASSROOM OBSERVATION, Australian Institute for teaching and school of Leadership Limited

aitsl aitsl.edu.au (28.01.2016)

Bolitho, R. The Dimensions of Continuing Professional Development Plenary talk.

Available online at: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/rod-bolitho-dimensions-continuing-professional-development

Menon, M & Varughese, S. CPD through Social Networking amongst Indian School Teachers: An Action Research, in Bolitho, R and Padwad, A. eds. Continuing Professional Development Lessons from India, 2013, British Council, New Delhi

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From pipette to pen: My journey in Science journalism

rosa22

Nature has always intrigued me. Science, therefore, which provides an opportunity to unravel the hidden treasures of nature has been my favourite subject. My career path was pretty well crafted: a graduation and post-graduation in biological sciences, and a doctorate with specialisation in Molecular Biology. I have enjoyed every second of my life in the lab! I loved everything, from pipetting to making chemical cocktails, looking for tiny beings under the microscope and experimenting with beautiful plants. I have been fortunate to study in the best schools and universities in Delhi, which provided me mentor-ship from excellent teachers.

My PhD supervisor gave me the opportunity to study the role of a tiny molecule called microRNA in governing various plant processes such as leaf development. Recognising the potential of Genetic Modification (GM) technology for addressing the issues of food security, I wrote a competitive research grant in to help design crops that could provide good produce yields even under adverse climatic conditions. I felt empowered when I got a full-fledged fund to carry out the project that was so close to my heart. But what kept me bothering me was the continuing debate around GM technology and resistance from the public to accept them as food.

The ban on GM crops in India made me realise that a revolutionary technology cannot reach its potential if it is not communicated to and is accepted by the public. Towards this goal, I decided to work towards science communication and public engagement to raise public awareness for scientific know-how. However, I faced two major issues to accomplish this task: my jargon-laden language which came from years of training in science and lack of know-how to approach and pitch science news stories to media editors.

Determined to try my hand at science writing, I attended two major workshops: Workshop on Science Journalism for Women in Science organised by National Centre for Biological Science and British Council under the Newton Bhabha Fund* and also a Science writing workshop organised by Current Science. These workshops taught me the essentials of science journalism and improved my writing skills. It also helped me to network with like-minded individuals and apprised me of new opportunities in this field.

My first by-line in Current Science magazine gave me a kick and I decided to write and publish science news stories on a regular basis.

Two years into science communication, and I had contributed almost 70+ science articles published in more than fifteen media platforms – digital and print.

Soon, I decided to work full-time as a science communicator and joined the “Vigyan Prasar”, which is the science communication wing of the Ministry of Science and Technology. My work involves generating ideas for the science TV programme aired on Doordarshan and it gives me intense satisfaction that the programme to which I contribute to, reaches numerous Indians, especially children who would be motivated to study and pursue science, and contribute to building a better future for themselves and the society.

*British Council through the Newton-Bhabha Fund in partnership with IISER Pune has delivered workshops for women scientists on opportunities for widening participation of women in science. The programme aims at providing opportunities for diverse expertise in allied science careers to ease the transition of women in the field of science. Since 2016, the workshops have trained over 300 women scientists, providing access to training and professional development in Science Administration & Management and Science Journalism.

Contributed by Dr Aditi Jain, Science Communicator, Vigyan Prasar, Dept of Science & Technology

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My story: Matters of heart and head

It was the winter of 2016. Christmas was around the corner with poinsettia flourishing in my balcony. Soaked in the soothing winter sun, I was reflecting on my conversations with Usha. I had met Usha a day before during a teachers training programme that I had conducted at Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi. Usha informed me about a workshop on ‘Research Based Pedagogical Tools’ (RBPT) for teachers and trainers that was to happen at Mohali, Punjab in January 2017. Within a blink of an eye, my fingers went into action on the keyboard and no sooner the details of the workshop flashed on my laptop screen, I applied, got selected and reached Mohali, to further my skills as a teacher trainer. The choice to participate in RBPT workshop was purely a professional skill building need aligned to my work practice.

At Mohali, I was amazed by the scale of the workshop, attitude of the organisers, and overall approach to develop teachers as changemakers. After the orientation session, I met Prachi and Apoorva of the organising team from COESME, IISER Pune. Prachi informed me about the ‘Women in Science’ workshops which were to be conducted in collaboration with British Council under the Newton Bhabha Fund*.

‘We will be conducting a workshop on Science Journalism in March’, said Prachi. ‘Science Journalism’, the words got stuck in my head and stayed there for a while. I began thinking about how to get through the science journalism workshop. RPBT was about my professional needs, but writing was my personal inclination. An inclination which had gone into hibernation owing to my choices of obtaining academic degrees, doing post-doctoral research, having and managing a family and so on. The only writing I had done so far was in the academic space – dissertations, thesis and research articles.

To put things into context, let me give you a bit of a background. I joined CSIR-IGIB as a project scientist and co-ordinated a project on science education outreach. Teacher training and interacting with students was a regular task. While working on this community project, I realised that science writing would be a wonderful means to convey ideas and bring about the required interventions. My computer had a folder titled, ’Write it soon’ that had several half-baked, incomplete ideas sitting as word documents waiting to be brought to life.

I would often push myself, but was not able to make through it. May be, I needed some confidence, an anchor,  and mentoring. At 39, knocking at my forties, totally consumed by the regular business of day to day life, I needed an external push. Sitting in the RBPT session, I realised that the upcoming workshop on science writing may serve as this ‘external push’ and get me out of this inertia. I remembered the words of Rumi – “Let yourself be silently drawn by strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”

March 2017, I travelled to IISER Pune twice and finished both Level 1 and Level 2 of the Science Journalism workshop. At Pune, I met wonderful, aspiring young women who had freshly completed their Post-graduate and PhD degrees and were looking for creative career options. We were told that very soon a few of us will be offered a writing internship.

One afternoon in the scorching heat of May 2017, my fellow workshop participant Kavita and I met Prof. L.S. Shashidhara at INSA, New Delhi to discuss a popular science writing assignment – an anthology on success stories from Indian Science. It was challenging, but our joy and excitement grew by leaps and bounds as we started working on the book. Thereafter, began an enriching journey of writing scientific accomplishments that had impacted the lives of common people and our nation. The book titled ‘Indian Science Transforming India’ was funded, published and launched by INSA in April 2018.

Book cover Indian Science: Transforming India

I can say with conviction, that the book was an outcome of the Science Journalism workshop that built my confidence and visibility as a science writer. On a personal note, my gratitude  towards people and organisations who made this happen is in infinite continuum.

The next leap came in 2018. By then, I had founded a not for profit capacity building organisation working in science education, communication and outreach. I had to disseminate whatever I had learned. I wrote a few articles on varied subjects and started popularising careers in science writing and communication among young students. In June 2019, Shivani Upreti, an undergraduate student and my mentee, published her article in the ‘Science Reporter’. This was a humble move, yet I feel very contented to have taken forward the spirit of building capacity for ‘Women in Science’.

My computer still has the folder,“ Write it soon”. However, now I am enabled, skilled and bubbling with ideas to pen.

*British Council through the Newton-Bhabha Fund in partnership with IISER Pune has delivered workshops for women scientists on opportunities for widening participation of women in science. The programme aims at providing opportunities for diverse expertise in allied science careers to ease the transition of women in the field of science. Since 2016, the workshops have trained over 300 women scientists, providing access to training and professional development in Science Administration & Management and Science Journalism.

Contributed by Adita Joshi, Director, Sansriti Foundation, New Delhi

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WhatsApp for teacher development – the what and how

Authors: Ashwini Shenoy, Danish Abdullah and Ashlesha Rodrigues Dsouza

How often do we hear (and mostly likely also say) ‘Please WhatsApp it to me.’ or ‘I’ll WhatsApp it to you’? When a brand name is used as a verb, it is truly a measure of its success! And in terms of must-have apps, WhatsApp clearly makes the cut. So why not use it for teacher development? It’s easy to access, bite-sized, and relevant. It can give you your ‘10-minute dose’ of CPD each day!

This blog is especially written for teacher educators who mentor or support teachers. We hope you find the ideas and techniques as useful as we have!

1.    Getting started

WhatsApp groups are useful communities of practice and a place to share, learn and grow. As a mentor, you can facilitate discussions, encourage peer learning and promote healthy debates on issues related to teacher practice and development.

Once you have your WhatsApp group in place, it’s useful to look at strategies to help you manage your group effectively – here are three ideas from our Technology for Teachers series.

WhatsApp for teacher development – the what and how

2.    Making the most of the group

We’ve found three areas which are key to successful and thriving WhatsApp groups:

  • Moderation: Irrelevant posts and forwards, or posts at odd times are inevitable! Mutually agreeing on group rules, as mentioned above, is a great way to combat this. You’ll be surprised at how participants remind each other about the rules! Your intervention might not even be required. The mantra, however, is to be patient.
  • Engagement: Haven’t we all at some point taken on the role of passive readers in WhatsApp groups? A slight nudge can help get the quiet ones talking. Knowing your participants’ backgrounds and professional development needs helps. Look for opportunities to nominate passive participants, link posts to their experiences, and contextualize content to make it relevant to them. And if your efforts do not yield results, do not be discouraged! Focus on the enthusiastic ones; in time, the others will follow suit. Not all participants may be tech-savvy too, so they might need a ‘silent period’ before warming up to discussions. Don’t forget to appreciate and reward participation. Discuss highlights and share your own learning.
  • Information: Too many posts may drive some away. Remember to agree about the day and time of posting; this will also give you that precious time off for yourself! Having a plan prepared on Excel or Word beforehand can help get you started

3.    Posting and managing content

What you post is extremely important and can influence the level of engagement. Here are some ideas on how you can add variety without over-simplifying content.

  • Theme-based resources: Sharing content such as articles, teaching resources, and audio-video resources is relatively easy. However, streamlining this content based on a theme makes it relevant. Consider posting resources that link to what the teachers are doing, perhaps a topic covered during a recent training, or introducing them to a new topic that they will find useful and exciting.
  • Quizzes: Bridge knowledge gaps or practice language points by posting a series of questions on the group. These could be on topics from a recent workshop or areas that need attention, based on common errors. You can also create quizzes online on websites like Poll Everywhere and share the poll link on WhatsApp.
  • Authentic audios and videos: Do you work with teachers who like to share stories from their classrooms? Think about getting them to record audio and video clips! If they try a new activity or methodology, or perhaps attempt a lesson stage differently from before, they can record it and share it with the group. Don’t forget to tell them about child protection and the importance of getting consent before recording and sharing media.

If a teacher posts a clip, get them to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Other participants could also give peer feedback. And if the teacher does make these recommended changes, sharing the learning on the group is a great idea. This helps build and strengthen the community of practice.

4.    What’s worked for us

  • Share one article/video a day. Posting too many times can lead to confusing trails. Remember not everyone knows how to reply to a specific image or link.
  • Don’t expect an immediate response. The idea of sharing on WhatsApp is that group members engage with the content at their own convenience.
  • Don’t just send a link. Engage with the teachers too. Encourage participants to think and share their thoughts. Ask them if they agree with the ideas in the article/video. Elicit how they could use those ideas in their context.
  • Ask your participants to select quiz topics and encourage all to participate. Remember to post the poll results and discuss. Get the group to reflect on them too.

Useful resources:

How do you use WhatsApp for professional development? Have you used any of the techniques from this blog? Share your answers in the comments section below.

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Taking part in webinars and online meetings

Video conferencing has become an important and increasingly popular means of communication in organisations all over the world, opening the door to operational flexibility and efficiency with policies such as remote working opportunities. According to a survey conducted by LifeSize.com:

  • 98% of respondents state that video conferencing helps with relationship-building inside and outside the company
  • 94% of businesses say video conferencing increases productivity
  • 90% of respondents say video makes it easier to get their point across and feel connected

On the other hand, webinars are emerging as a great online, interactive tool for information exchange and communication. According to a report by GoToWebinars:

  • 73% of B2B marketers and sales leaders say that a webinar is the best way to generate high-quality leads
  • 57% of marketers say that they will create more webinars next year

So how do we get the most out of webinars and online meetings? Here are some tips and strategies:

Webinars:

  • For organisers, consult others in your organisation or even have a vote on the topic of the webinar. You could provide a list of options which to choose from
  • Tailor content specifically to the target audience attending. The sign-up form can include a few fields in which registrants can enter their details. Use this information to tailor your messaging
  • Offer opportunity for engaging with the speaker(s) instead of having a one-way conversation with the audience. This could be via chat or voice or video calling. Ask questions and have the audience share their views and ideas
  • Provide incentive or value-adds for participation to encourage more signups
  • Ensure that you do follow up surveys and interviews after the webinar and incorporate the feedback given by respondents into subsequent webinars
  • For participants, it helps to take notes during a webinar to ensure you don’t miss out on any vital information
  • Ask questions and engage with the speaker to get the best learning experience from the webinar

Online meetings:

  • For organisers, its good practice to check your video/audio conferencing system beforehand
  • Ensure that you send a clear agenda for the meeting well in advance
  • Encourage participants to turn on their computer/phone cameras where possible to help bring a personal touch to the meeting. If someone is in an area with limited internet connectivity, it might be best to simply use audio and turn their cameras off
  • Define the flow of the meeting at the outset and keep a strict eye on timelines
  • For participants, there is sometimes a tendency to multitask while on calls, especially if they are not speaking. Best practice entails giving your full focus to the meeting and organizing your time to complete your other tasks before or after the call

Want more tips and tricks on how to make the best of webinars and online meetings? Join the British Council’s free, live webinar on ‘Taking part in webinars and online meetings’

In this webinar we will:

  • explore the rules of netiquette and safety in online meetings
  • practise communication skills for online meetings
  • describe how to use chat more effectively to boost your participation

When is the webinar?

Date: Thursday, 19 November 2019
Time: 6.00 pm to 7.00 pm IST

How do I join the webinar?

Sign up for the webinar by clicking here

We will share the joining instructions via email a day before the webinar.

This webinar is delivered through Zoom, watch this video on how to use it.

Sources: LifeSize.com, GoToWebinars

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Why are critical thinking and problem-solving skills important?

According to a British Council report, one of the main reasons these skills are so important is economic: critical thinking and problem-solving help people make better decisions about their jobs and livelihood. For example, 78 per cent of people living in poverty are in rural areas and are farmers. Being able to think critically about different approaches to water and grassland management may boost productivity and increase income. In some communities, adopting different breeds has grown milk yields by 65 per cent, and better grassland management has doubled the income of herders. 

Critical thinking- the stages

Critical thinking can be divided into seven stages:

1. Understanding the issue clearly without room for error or misunderstanding

2. Understanding the final goals and objectives, or outputs and outcomes of the exercise

3. Gathering as much information and data from multiple sources as possible to be able to make an informed decision

4. Getting multiple points of view on the issue to formulate a complete picture

5. Separating fact from assumption

6. Looking back at historical data to check for any learning which can be useful

7. Draw your most logical conclusion basis the above information

Tip: Discussions and group sessions are great ways to enhance critical thinking as they offer students a chance to think about things they care about and analyse the pros and cons of their thought processes to explain their points of view.

Free resources to help you develop your critical thinking skills: 

  • Improve your own critical thinking skills by doing free Sudoku puzzles. You can pause, print, clear, modify difficulty level and ask, ‘How am I doing?’ in the middle of the puzzle
  • Here is a great blog by Don Watson on the concept of critical thinking
  • For teachers, watch this sample lesson on encouraging critical thinking with the help of the map of the world.
  • Taking an online course is a great way to advance these skills. MOOCs, for example, will expand your professional knowledge and provide global perspectives from other participants who join from around the world. The British Council offers range of MOOCs on the FutureLearn platform, including ‘How to Succeed in a Global Workplace.’
  • Look for courses that focus on maximising opportunities for you to speak or write. A good course will develop your independent learning skills and offer practical learning activities based on real-life situations.

At the British Council, these skills are built into our course design. For example, our online myEnglish courses include communicative group tasks in live online classes – all under the guidance of an internationally-qualified and experienced teacher.

————————————————————————————————————————————-Sign up for our free, live online webinar and learn more about critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can help you advance in your career.

When is the webinar?

Date: Thursday, 17 October 2019
Time: 6.00 pm to 7.00 pm IST

How do I join the webinar?

Sign up for the webinar by clicking here

We will share the joining instructions via email a day before the webinar

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