One month teaching in India

A south Indian thali.
My first south Indian thali

Background

The Idea: From Vienna to Andhra Pradesh

I study business informatics at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology). For my bachelor thesis with the working title “Enhancing the Resilience of Software Engineering Courses by Implementing Continuous Education using Smartphones exemplified by rural India” I created and taught a course for software engineering at a rural college in Andhra Pradesh, India in 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the safety measures – like college closures – the whole setting for the course was entirely remote.

So I was sitting at home in Vienna while the students joined from their homes in (mostly) Andhra Pradesh. The main challenge was to include all students as only half of them own a personal device like a laptop or desktop computer. Out of those, half had to share their devices with family members or friends. The rest of the students had only a smartphone available for learning, practising, and joining classes.

The goal to include everyone required the software engineering course to be created in a way that also the participants with only a smartphone can join in all activities like learning, practising, attending classes, and reviewing submissions.

Course overview: Modules and used Tools

The software engineering course currently consists of four modules for each year: We designed module 1 for students of the first year, the second for students of the second year and so on. They begin with learning how to use the keyboard properly using TypingClub and about concepts of computer programming using Scratch.

In the second module students start with basic concepts of Java programming using practical assignments, where they for example also have to solve tasks of the Java course on Sololearn. During the third module, they will learn concepts about object-oriented programming in Java and create their first bigger Java application during three iterations one a month each.

Additionally, they will get to know the basics of HTML, CSS and JavaScript by applying them to practical assignments and courses from Khan Academy. In the fourth module, students gain an understanding of the basics of software architecture and how to use a SQL database to store and retrieve data in Java. During this module, they have to work together in a two to three person team and use git together with GitHub to share their code.

Conducting the course: Adapting to connectivity issues and various devices

In order to make the teaching material available and to enable students to enter submissions, we used the learning platform Moodle. Moodle is responsive and adapts to the screen size of the students’ devices. For the Java assignments students used the Android application Java N-IDE. For the HTML, CSS and JavaScript tasks they used the Android application Spck Code Editor. Since internet connectivity is also an obstacle, both applications work entirely without any active internet connection.

After completing the exercises, students submitted the Java files to Moodle. For the HTML, CSS and JavaScript assignments, they used the web application trinket.io. An alternative to trinket.io was Spck Code Editor. Since Spck Code Editor did not require any active internet connection, students preferred Spck Code EditorZoom was used to conduct online classes and also for submission reviews with the students, which were about their submitted Java, HTML, CSS and Javascript code.

Sometimes technical issues like powercuts, bad or no internet connection at all, or other unrelated personal issues, prevented the students from attending online classes. Therefore the classes were recorded and uploaded to YouTube. Also most mobile internet data subscriptions of the students are limited to about 2GB per day, and they have to participate in online classes nearly all day long. Additional videos in which concepts of Java programming was explained were also recorded using OBS and uploaded to YouTube.

Currently: First experiences, challenges and festivities

I arrived at the Bengaluru International Airport in India on the 23rd of March 2022. The first experiences in India were a three hours long journey through the outskirts of Andhra Pradesh in the middle of the night to the place of the college and a really nice and heartly welcoming ceremony where I had the chance to meet and talk to the students for the first time, which I only met during remote sessions last year.

Candle lightning at the welcoming ceremony.
Candle lightning (this time with shoes) during the welcoming ceremony.

After a long time struggling to adjust to the new environment, especially wearing formal clothes during the hot Indian summer and being so far away from home for the first time, finally the classes started. Right now, I am teaching two classes of students, who are currently doing their BTech in Computer Science and Engineering at a college in rural Andhra Pradesh in their third and fourth year. During my first week teaching, Paul visited and helped me to prepare everything, to introduce me to everybody, and to kickstart the new semester.

Students of the third and fourth year.
Students of the 3rd and 4th year

Since there was a break for new students to join the software engineering course due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we planned to continue the course with students of the first year. During Pauls visit, we also conducted the entry assignment for the first year students of the college. Out of 66 students, we will start the first module of the software engineering course with 16 students.

Conducting the entry assignment for students of the first year
Conducting the entry assignment for students of the 1st year.

Besides that, currently classes for module 3 and module 4 are conducted once a week with three hours each. Due to the multicultural nature of India students often miss classes because they are involved in helping to organise and prepare various festivities that are currently going on. Sometimes students also have to leave to participate in interviews with companies for internships. Luckily for now there are no school closures and we can use the computer lab during the classes.

As mentioned above, another challenge is internet connectivity. Most of the time it is available, but sometimes there the connection is very, very, very… slow or there is no internet connection at all. Powercuts happen as well, but are very rare at the moment. The locals told me during the rainy season it will get worse, but I hope for the best. Another big hurdle for students without a personal laptop or desktop computer is that the internet in the computer lab is only available during the classes. When there are no classes, the internet for the computer lab is being turned off.

A possible solution could be to show students how to use USB tethering to access the internet on the computer, but then again they have to use data of their own mobile data subscription. Nevertheless, the classes are going on and I as well as the students are really motivated to continue teaching and learning with or without those challenges. I will keep you up to date in the next blog post in about a month.

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One month teaching in India
was published on 19.05.2022 by Raimund Rittnauer. It files under south asia
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