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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 151-163

Faculty members' perception of the challenges and prospects of online learning in dental institutes in India during the COVID-19 pandemic scenario

1 Department of Prosthodontics, Luxmi Bai Institute of Dental Sciences & Hospital, Patiala, Punjab, India
2 Department of Periodontics, Luxmi Bai Institute of Dental Sciences & Hospital, Patiala, Punjab, India
3 Department of Prosthodontics, Himachal Dental College, Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, India
4 Department of Conservative Dentistry and Endodontics, Christian Dental College, Ludhiana, Punjab, India
5 Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, M.M. College of Dental Sciences and Research, Mullana, Haryana, India

Date of Submission08-May-2021
Date of Decision08-Jun-2021
Date of Acceptance09-Jun-2021
Date of Web Publication12-Jul-2021

Correspondence Address:
Rupandeep Kaur Samra
Doctor's Colony, Bhadson Road, Patiala
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijds.ijds_40_21

Rights and Permissions

Aim: The aim of this study was to determine the impact and challenges of emergency remote teaching faced by the dental faculty during the first and the second wave of COVID-19 in India. Materials and Methods: A cross-sectional descriptive questionnaire study was carried out consisting of two surveys. Data for the first questionnaire was recruited from 135 faculty members engaged in online teaching and comprised details about sociodemographic, designation, teaching experience, online teaching practices, perceptions, and challenges faced by the faculty members during online teaching during the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic in India. Categorical variables were reported as counts and percentages. Group comparisons were made with the Chi-square test. The same participants were given the second questionnaire to access their efficacy in overcoming the challenges faced by them during the second wave. Results: 54.8% of the participants were female. 46.7% of respondents were Professors by designation. Variation was evident for the personal, technical, financial barriers and challenges caused by students' attitude with designation as a variable. 67.4% of the participants devoted extra time to prepare their lectures. 62.2% of the faculty faced network issues. 53.3% of the faculty reported increased expenditure on data. Maximum challenges were seen in the category based on students' attitude which deteriorated the quality of the lectures. 74.1% of the teachers agreed that online teaching was better for theoretical learning. There was not much difference observed in the response regarding personal barriers among faculty members with gender as a variable in the first wave, but notable differences were seen for technical barriers, especially lack of formal training. During second-wave study, Internet connectivity still remained a barrier. Conclusion: Challenges faced by the faculty members regarding online learning decreased in the second wave as compared to the first wave, but network connectivity and students' attitude remained an issue. Scope of theoretical online teaching was perceived to be better as compared to practical teaching.

Keywords: emergency remote teaching, COVID-19, faculty members, Internet connectivity

How to cite this article:
Samra RK, Nirola A, Verma A, Nagpal A, Malik G, Singh Thind GB. Faculty members' perception of the challenges and prospects of online learning in dental institutes in India during the COVID-19 pandemic scenario. Indian J Dent Sci 2021;13:151-63

How to cite this URL:
Samra RK, Nirola A, Verma A, Nagpal A, Malik G, Singh Thind GB. Faculty members' perception of the challenges and prospects of online learning in dental institutes in India during the COVID-19 pandemic scenario. Indian J Dent Sci [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Oct 18];13:151-63. Available from: http://www.ijds.in/text.asp?2021/13/3/151/321179

  Introduction Top

The onset of COVID-19 pandemic in December 2019 worldwide led to drastic changes in every sphere of life. From wearing masks to norms of social distancing, many things became the new normal for every common man around. All educational institutes were closed and emergency remote learning commenced.

In India, during the first wave, all medical and dental institutes were shut from March 25, 2020, for the students and staff. During the lockdown period, online teaching picked up momentum. For postgraduates, faculty members, and interns; colleges reopened in May end, and for graduates, offline classes resumed back in November 2020. At the time of writing this manuscript in March 2021, the second wave had enveloped the country and the dental graduate students were asked to continue studies from home and online teaching was again implemented.

The transition from face-to-face learning to emergency remote teaching (ERT) led to teachers' professionalization in digitization.[1] In developing countries, online education in many medical and dental institutions is not much prevalent unlike in developed countries where it is a regular part of curriculum.

Teachers resorted to emergency remote teaching within a short time frame, even despite the unpreparedness and lack of support systems of most educational institutes regarding transition toward online learning. This resulted in massive stress on teachers and posed many challenges.[2]

The level of preparedness expected from the faculty was enormous. Preparedness refers to the ability to foresee and respond successfully to the impact of hazards.[3] Ability of the dental institutions to work out strategies regarding smooth carrying out of remote emergency learning to deal with the pandemic needs to be evaluated carefully weighing the pros and cons for future during such calamities. Evaluating the degree of preparedness can guide us in recognizing the need for removing any flaws and providing a pragmatic approach for successful short-term and intermediate ERT. Having a firsthand knowledge of the challenges and barriers faced by the faculty can help us in shaping our infrastructure such that in future; the faculty members will be well prepared.[4]

ERT can be broadly classified into two types: synchronous and asynchronous learning. During this period, synchronous learning, i.e., E-learning with virtual presence or distance education with a set class schedule and required login times as defined by Negash and Wilcox, came to force. Asynchronous learning or E-learning is without physical presence but with E-communication where students can access it anytime and complete their assignments.[5]

Adaptability to this new norm was a big challenge for the educators. They started conducting online classes to online examinations and even simulating laboratory-like environment for better understanding for students' benefit.

Numerous studies were conducted to note the perception of dental students regarding the change in education system, but very few of them were documented to analyze the viewpoint of faculty members in low-resource settings.[6] The first study reported was done by Schlenz et al.[7] Other researchers have also explored the faculty perception for emergency remote learning.[8],[9],[10] This study was conducted in an attempt to broaden the horizon regarding the hardships faced by educators in dental institutes in India.

The objectives of this study were to evaluate (a) dental faculty experience with ERT during the first and second waves of COVID-19 pandemic, (b) perception of ERT by faculty members, (c) challenges faced by them during ERT, and (d) scope of imbibing online learning.

  Materials and Methods Top

This study is the second part of the research, wherein the first part was focused on the perception of dental students regarding online education in dental institutions in India. This part comprised two surveys: the first survey focused on the challenges and perception of the faculty members regarding ERT during the first wave (lockdown period and after that) in the pandemic scenario and the second survey was done for selected questions involving the same participants after the second wave hit India and online classes were again resumed. The first descriptive cross-sectional study was conducted in which 135 faculty members conducting online lectures from 5 different colleges from 3 states and 1 union territory participated in the study from October 15 to October 28, 2020. The minimum proposed sample size for effective validity was calculated on the basis of the formula applied.

Selection of the colleges was primarily on the personal choice of the principal researcher. The invite to all the teachers to participate in the study was given by attaching a formal request along with a prepared questionnaire via e-mail. The total number of teachers involved in E-learning in the selected colleges was around 170, so the sample size came out to be 118 subjects at a confidence level of 95% and margin of error as 5%. For possible attrition, it was decided to include 10% extra subjects, so finally, the sample size came out to be 130 subjects.

The questionnaire was prepared on Google Forms by compiling questions gathered from similar researches by the two primary investigators. Some questions were added and modified to adapt to the education system in India.[11],[12]

It comprised 37 questions divided into 8 sections, out of which all but one required subjective answer. The first section was sociodemographic section which included information regarding age, gender, marital status, years of teaching experience, designation, and years for which online lectures were conducted.

The second section consisted of two questions to gain insight regarding various online platforms used during the pandemic and the most preferred choice of platforms by the faculty members.

The third section dealt with personal barriers encountered by teachers during online education. It ranged from questions asking about the environment at teachers' home, balancing their classes along with the household responsibilities and their comfort level in adapting to this emergency remote learning trend. This section comprised six multiple-choice questions.

The fourth section required responses pertaining to the technical barriers faced by the teachers and had four multiple-choice questions. Section 5 of the questionnaire dealt with the financial barriers faced consisting of three multiple-choice questions.

The sixth section comprised six multiple-choice questions regarding barriers faced because of lack of effort and motivation from the side of students.

Section seven was formed by accumulating questions gaining an idea about barriers faced by teachers during examinations, be it online or offline. This section had total six questions; five of which were multiple-choice questions and one required a subjective answer.

The last section, section 8 of the questionnaire, wanted the teachers to shed a light on future and scope of online education in the country. It comprised three multiple choice questions.

The second survey was conducted when the second wave hit India and online classes were resumed from April 31 to May 5, 2021. A self-made questionnaire comprising eight questions was sent to all the teachers who had participated previously and their answers were noted in an attempt to compare the results obtained during the first wave to that during the second wave.

Administrative and ethical considerations

Ethical approval was granted by the Institutional Ethics Committee (HDC/Prostho/Ethical/2020/28) as per the guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research.[13] Informed consent was taken digitally from all the participants. The participants' data was kept anonymous as no names and details of college were asked.

Categorical variables were reported as counts and percentages. Group comparisons were made with the Chi-square test or Fisher's exact test keeping designation and gender as variables to find if there is any significant relationship between the barriers and challenges faced by the faculty. Correlation between variables was evaluated using Pearson's correlation coefficient (r).

P < 0.05 was considered to be statistically significant. Statistical analysis was performed using IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, version 22.0 (Armonk, NY, USA: IBM Corp.).

  Results Top

According to the first sociodemographic section, maximum response was obtained from teachers within the age group of 36–45 years (48.9%) and 46.7% of the participants were Professors [Table 1]. Majority of the faculty conducted classes for final-year BDS students (76.3%) [Figure 1].
Table 1: Sociodemographic details

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Figure 1: Online lectures taken by the faculty for different years

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According to the second section of the questionnaire, Zoom was the most frequently used (88.1%) and also the most liked (55%) online education portal [Figure 2].
Figure 2: Online platforms commonly used by faculty members

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When comparing data keeping designation and years of experience as variables, stark difference in percentage was found, especially for Readers with 4–9 years of experience [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6], [Table 7]. In section 3, sharp variation was noted for questions asking about difficulty in managing classes along with household responsibilities, lack of work satisfaction, and extra time required for preparation of online classes as shown in [Table 2]. Section 4 revealed that Professors and Readers were affected by lack of technical expertise and formal training during online learning [Table 3]. Increased expenditure on data services was the prominent financial barrier [Table 4].
Table 2: Personal barriers faced on the basis of designation

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Table 3: Technical barriers faced on the basis of designation

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Table 4: Financial barriers faced on the basis of designation

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Table 5: Barriers faced on account of students' attitude on the basis of designation

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Table 6: Perception of examination conduction on the basis of designation

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Table 7: Scope of digital dental education on the basis of designation

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A lot of variation was seen for challenges faced as a result of students' attitude and significant values of P were found for the question regarding students being disinterested, lack of communication, and resolution of students' doubts [Table 5]. Seventy-nine out of total number of participants stated that theoretical examinations were conducted offline by their respective colleges [Table 6].

The last section of the questionnaire dealt with the teachers' viewpoint regarding scope of digital dental education in a developing country like India [Table 7]. Majority of the faculty believed that online education is fit for theoretical classes (74.1%) but not for practicals. Maximum variation in percentage was found for Readers regarding suitability of examination conduction via online mode, and P value was found to be significant. Faculty was asked to describe in their words any other challenges faced by them during online teaching except for the ones stated. Few statements from the same are mentioned in [Table 8].
Table 8: Other barriers faced by faculty members in their own words

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Data from different sections was compared keeping male and female faculty members as the variable [Table 9], [Table 10], [Table 11], [Table 12], [Table 13], [Table 14]. For personal barriers, disparity between both genders was noted for questions regarding being conscious while conducting classes (72.1% males) and devoting extra time for lecture preparation (74.3% of females) as is clear from [Table 9]. Not much variation was seen in section regarding technical and financial barriers [Table 10] and [Table 11]. In section for challenges faced on account of students' attitude, difference in opinion was noted for most of the questions [Table 12]. Regarding examination conduction, female faculty felt online practical to be ineffective to judge students' practical knowledge and male faculty found it difficult to invigilate online examinations [Table 13]. Concerning scope of learning, their views were more or less the same [Table 14]. Significant P values were noted for lack of technical expertise, provision of special A-V rooms for conduction of lectures by college, any online subscription to study materials/webinars by the faculty members, students being disinterested, and resolution of their doubts during online lectures.
Table 9: Personal barriers faced on the basis of gender

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Table 10: Technical barriers faced on the basis of gender

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Table 11: Financial barriers faced on the basis of gender

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Table 12: Barriers faced on account of students' attitude on the basis of gender

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Table 13: Perception of examination conduction on the basis of gender

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Table 14: Scope of digital dental education on the basis of gender

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During the second phase of online education, the percentage of teachers spending extra time prior to their lectures reduced to 52.5%. Internet speed was still a major issue. Thirty-seven percent of the teachers were provided with A-V rooms in the college premises. Fifty percent of the teachers claimed that there has not been an increase in the attentiveness or regularity of the students towards online lectures [Figure 3]. On a scale of 1–5, 45% of the teachers graded themselves as 4 in increased technical efficiency and confidence while conducting online lectures [Figure 4]. 12.5% of the faculty were still conducting lectures after the college hours as a result of network issue sometimes.
Figure 3: Comparison of responses of the barriers faced by faculty during the first and second waves of pandemic

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Figure 4: Numerical rating regarding technical expertise during the second wave

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  Discussion Top

There is no denying the fact that emergency remote learning has been very useful in these trying times and has not only made the learning possible for the learners but also provided them with a respite from sudden halt in affective learning. Kulal and Nayak evaluated the perception of teachers and deduced that they faced difficulties in this synchronous online teaching as a result of lack of proper training and technical expertise during the pandemic.[14]

In the precariously hard times of pandemic, emergency remote teaching was inculcated religiously. Many studies have assessed the online learning platforms and their findings have helped shape methods to improvise online teaching.[15] The challenge of limited faculty and institutional resources in developing countries has already been the center of many studies and plans to overcome these have been brought to the forefront.[16],[17]

It needs to be pointed out that in India, online communication tools were being used for ERT as opposed to enhanced approach used in developed countries which is an ingenious method of teaching that uses advanced information and communication technology (ICT).[18] In this study, an insight into the perceptions of the faculty members of dental colleges was made to access the response of faculty about the E-learning system and the barriers and challenges faced by them. Most of the teaching faculty comprising Senior Lecturers and Readers are from the millennia generation. They are well versed with technology, but since online education is not an active part of regular curriculum, the online teaching on communication platforms posed problems for them. Online education requires integrating technology by the facilitators of education for successful teaching. 16.3% of the teachers are with more than 16 years of experience and thus belonging to X generation. They faced difficulty with online classes to a greater extent in the beginning. The results were similar to a study done by Afzal et al.[19]

Zoom and Google Meet were found to be popular communication portals in the study. If on one side, certain existing social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Google hangouts were being used for asynchronous learning and sharing data for educational purposes, certain new portals such as WebEx, Microsoft teams, and WebinarJam were also given a try by various educational institutes. Teachers shared study materials and lectures in the form of PPT, PDF, or Microsoft Word document and assignments for students were sent through WhatsApp groups or by e-mail to students during this phase.

In the personal barriers, during lockdown, 41.5% of the faculty members found it difficult to balance classes with household responsibilities and 67.4% of the faculty spent extra time to prepare their lectures before the online classes. To elevate the standard of virtual online classes, time to prepare the lecture is vital along with technical support to faculty in the form of assistants and e-material so that they can take class without stress.[20],[21]

The adaptability to various communication platforms for online classes was a cause of concern in the beginning. Senior professors are more experienced than the millennia generation faculty but can lack the potential to use new technology, that too without proper formal guidance and training. In some institutes, faculty was given formal training on how to use the portal, the attendance was duly marked and faculty members were taught to adapt themselves to the online portal. While in two institutes in the study, faculty had to figure out on their own on how to use the online program which proved to be a difficult task in the beginning, but they became proficient after sometime. Internet speed and connectivity was a major barrier with about 62.2% of the faculty facing it.

Lack of technical expertise also posed a problem to some extent in the beginning during the first wave, but faculty became proficient in using technology during the second wave.

It has been emphasized in studies by Marcial and Rama that it is for the educators to increase their proficiency on certain ICT tools.[22] In another study done by Konan, educators in Turkey had average technical expertise.[23]

Deepak and Srivastava[24] and Kuzmicic[25] explained that factors affecting educators' motivation for implementing technology in their teaching are vastly affected by their viewpoint and effectiveness. Teachers who are tech savvy and willing to strengthen their technical skill set and expertise can successfully imbibe it in their teaching on a regular basis.[26] Major factors impacting the educators' reluctance in assimilating new technologies for E-learning are lack of IT support and cooperation.[27],[28] Lack of knowledge and technical skill set along with adequate training with online platforms also impedes the online teaching process.[2],[29],[30]

A professionalization program[27] focusing on the methodological incorporation of ICT along with technical assistance[30] and directly suited for educators' teaching practice should be recommended.[1],[31],[32],[33]

In the financial barriers section, 72 of the 135 participants agreed that online classes led to increased expenditure on data services.

In the challenges posed by students' affective domain, 60% of the faculty felt that the students were disinterested and kept their videos off and it was difficult to relate to them, as is clear from excerpts in [Table 8]. 65.9% of the Senior Lecturers felt that they could not resolve doubts of the students during online class. Ward-Steinman and Madura felt that learner-to-instructor distance and lack of personal contact make the students disinterested in online courses.[34]

All through the period of lockdown, examination conduction was a quite debated topic. Each university came up with their own guidelines for the same. Few of them decided to promote the students to the next year without the conduction of examinations except for the final year. Some institutes opted for conduction of offline theoretical and practical examinations; while others opted for conduction of online examinations or combination of both techniques to evaluate theoretical and practical skill set of students. 41.5% of the faculty reported that examinations were conducted online in their respective institutes. 91.1% of the faculty members felt that practical skill set cannot be evaluated by online methods.

Few positive developments were noted in the second wave. From the results of the second survey, it was clear that the number of faculty members devoting extra time for lecture preparation had reduced. Unfortunately, network speed and connectivity issues had increased maybe as most of the faculty were conducting lectures from their respective college premises, so overload on the WiFi could be one of the reasons. Students were not found to be attentive toward their lectures and their attendance was almost similar to that in the first wave. Faculty members considered themselves to be more proficient in taking classes now as they had become well versed with the communication platform and also knew how to use digital tools during their online classes.

It is important to understand the faculty's viewpoint toward online teaching to be able to address their concerns.[10] The voices of faculty are important for improvising and removing the barriers and challenges posed by online learning so that it can be modified and embraced in the normal curriculum of academic institutes in future.[35]

The end result of this study can be used as an input in modifying educational system of the institutes during its progression to the new normal in teaching in India so that the faculty is well prepared for such crisis in future.

Wilson in his study concluded that teachers felt unrewarded for their attempt at using technology in online courses and found the technology substructure to be insufficient and network and internet issues to be persistent in remote places. The results of his study are similar to our study.[36]

Dentistry is mostly about psychomotor skills which can be developed in contact with patients and in practical sessions. Regarding the scope of online learning, it is evident that it is not suitable for clinical expertise and practical examinations. Roughly 94.8% of the respondents reported that they could not take clinical sessions and practicals. 88.1% of the participants felt that examinations are difficult to be conducted online.

It is now widely acknowledged that the senior faculty should not only be the disseminator of knowledge but also be the “facilitators for learning,” and knowledge of digital tools should be mandatory.[37] The General Medical Council in the UK passed a mandate that medical graduates should be well versed in the use of computers for conducting online lectures.[38]

Many teachers fear advanced digital technology and are apprehensive and not confident with online tools in their classrooms.[39] Such challenges to the online environment during an emergency can delay the adaptability of educators to applying technology during online classes.[40] In a study by Galidevara et al., deficiency of faculty training was noted and it was concluded that adding information technology (IT) based skills to the faculty training programs can improve their efficacy by making them aware of survey tools to regulate cheating and checking unacceptable behavior of students during online teaching.[41]

To advance online learning, a multidimensional IT team support along with good institutional support is imperative for coaching the educators to achieve the goals.[16]

Another significant drawback of online learning is their inability to keep track of students' attention and interest in the class.[42] Learners tend to keep their video off and start indulging in other activities after logging in the class and often get distracted easily.

Development of technology has provided with many devices which can be used simultaneously such as cameras, brain waves, blood oxygen, heartbeat, and blood pressure which can expose learners' loss of attention or interest and can even stimulate an action to get their attention back.[43],[44] It is pertinent to concede that online learning cannot replace the existential and operational face-to-face teaching but can only act as an addition to it in future.[45]

Few lessons are clear for fortuitous execution of ERT from the study. Faculty members should be well versed with digital tools of the communication platform in use and tech savvy. In medical and dental institutes, mostly it is problem-based learning, so there should be participation from learners as well as educators in the lecture. Learners should not turn off their videos but can change the background for privacy purposes. This results in an engaging exchange between the faculty members and students. Including some quizzes intermittently in the lecture can keep the audience attentive. An assistant to help in troubleshooting technical issues should be assigned for smooth conduction of online classes. For online conduction of examinations, there should be enough invigilators with few students under them so that invigilation can be carried out smoothly. It is important to use some designated ICT software with proper Internet connectivity.

  Conclusion Top

Technology in the hands of a good teacher can be a real asset. A blended approach toward teaching should be followed in future to combine both traditional face-to-face and online learning so that faculty is well versed in norms of online classes. Quality and speed of network should be guaranteed for smooth conduction of online classes along with technical support for the faculty members.

Ethical clearance

An informed consent was obtained from all the respondents digitally and the ethical approval was obtained from the ethics committee of the dental institute with the reference number HDC/Prostho/Ethical/2020/28.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest


The first part of the study has already been published by the title “Dental Students' Perception on the Impact of E-learning in Continuing Dental Education during the Current Pandemic Scenario.”

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6], [Table 7], [Table 8], [Table 9], [Table 10], [Table 11], [Table 12], [Table 13], [Table 14]


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