2020 – The year that was
For years, I have taught elementary school students and enjoyed the process as much as the kids themselves. It gives me limitless happiness to watch the spark of discovery come alive in their young eyes as we embark on new routes of learning together.
Last year, however, posed an unique position. Our time-tested methods of teaching went flying out of the window when a largely unknown, destructive microbe forced us to retreat to our respective homes. The COVID-19 pandemic threatened education progress worldwide through the near-universal closing of schools at all levels and the economic recession sparked by pandemic-control measures. Just like most teachers, I was also concerned about the resultant learning loss, and increased dropouts. Not to mention the decrease in the level of engagement by the students as well as their parents. One the one hand we were inundated with policy-related information from the state and federal level, including data by the World Bank’s Edtech team during the initial “coping phase.” On the other hand, there was a complete lack of information on appropriate tools that would be easy to access and use by teachers like us.
Amidst a lot of confusion and chaos and school shutdowns nation-wide, it was decided by most school administrators, including ours, that classes would resume and be conducted online.
This was easier said than done, because for many in the teaching squad, as well as for the young students, online classes were a novel phenomenon altogether. While we were accustomed to years of instruction in person, we had just about started getting used to using laptops or iPads in class. And now fast forward to the implementation of a completely new system of teaching. It was tantamount to never even hitting the ground; we went straight to flying!
To be honest, it was with a lot of trepidation that we commenced our online classes. Both teachers and students were equally apprehensive. The year had turned out to be unforgettable for all of us.
As an educator, I had never ever imagined the transformation that we were thrown into
While I was grappling with the technology and platform for an utterly new method of teaching, I was also bracing myself for a class full of blank stares and sleepy eyes on my screen. I knew it would be a huge challenge to keep the kids engaged and focused.
When the new year started in August, I felt more unprepared than ever before. Even though we had had some trial runs with summer classes online. It doesn’t matter how many precious years of experience you might have gathered, there is always some apprehension (along with excitement) at the start of a new year with a new class of students. I like to believe that I am a self-assured and positive educator but there are always questions that loom large. The feeling of being “settled in” only comes after the first two weeks have gone by.
And in this COVID19-era, there were even more questions we were faced with:
Will I be able to connect with my new class like before?
How will I stay remote and yet instill a new love for the things they learn in my class?
Will be able to keep the spark of creativity alive in each child stationed behind their respective screens in the solitude of their own homes?
Will they feel confident enough to reach out to me with their questions, all in digital mode?
And last but not the least, how will my classes be interesting and collaborative?
The last question assumed a gigantic proportion in my mind and gave me considerable stress. I knew that I had to transform myself and adopt new ways of teaching and keeping my students engaged, under the current circumstances.
Looking for help
Though our school had adopted Zoom as the platform for online classes, I set out to discover if there were additional ways by which I could best attain my mission – which was to make my online class fascinating and collaborative.
Science, of course, is a hugely engrossing subject, full of fun facts, but the challenge was to involve the right technology and take it right across to each of my students despite not being in physical proximity to any of them.
At the same time, this would have to be an immersive process, wherein both parties – my students and me – could participate fully. I should be able to communicate easily and freely. This seamless method would have to be user-friendly and fun as well.
I looked with trepidation at my wish list. Was I asking for too much?
Imagine my delight when I discovered Personify Presenter – it was simple and fuss-free to download, install, and use. Personify Inc even put out a free trial offer for me to test out the product for a limited period.
You think and you manifest
Once Personify Presenter was on my laptop, I decided to try it out for myself. I had already discovered that it was fairly easy to download and install the app. Now was the time to test its features.
As I found out, it uses AI and ML to ‘extract’ your face or body and insert it in your presentation. For example, I am going to discuss the parts of the human body with my first grade students in the science class. With the Personify Presenter, while I am presenting, I can be right there with my actual face doing a live session.
It is a cool immersive process that uses studio functionality to make the process fun and absorbing.
In short, you have the power to edit, educate, and entertain all at once. I realized that it was exactly the tool that I needed to make classes fun and lively.
Educate and Entertain
For the benefit of other educators out there, I’d like to explain why Personify Presenter stands out –
- It uses AI and MI involving computer vision to ‘pick out’ your face or facade from the camera stream. Then, you may ‘place’ yourself anywhere you choose on an application or website on your Mac/PC. Basically, then you observe yourself appear where you wish on the screen – bottom right or left, centre etc. It is yours to select.
- When you start presenting, you are right there – a live version of your own self. This creates an instant connection with your audience. The presentation comes ‘alive’. It is personal.
- What is presented is no longer merely a collection of information, diagrams, charts, or infographics. Now there is a surprise wow element, with your face and expressions changing from time to time. Infuse it with your own brand of humor, if you choose!
- Your class becomes as collaborative as you wish! You have the option to move seamlessly between materials, pull matter as per your choice and emphasize parts you wish to, using virtual presence during your interaction with your students.
It is also pertinent to remember Personify Presenter takes your regular presentation several notches higher and makes your lessons more engaging.
- The ‘action’ makes your presentation hard to forget. It is the next best thing to being present right there in a classroom of excited, curious youngsters.
- Your students remain ‘connected’ to your pitch throughout – focusing on what you are telling them because it is live, two-way interaction.
- You have both the facility and flexibility to record, to edit and share as you work.
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