Online Academic environment

Mr. K V Ramakrishnan

The COVID-19 pandemic is set to revolutionise the globe sooner than we know. The way our governments, institutions and people think and function, will radically change in the longer term. This virus has not spared any segment of the economy & the education sector too is not an exception to its disruptive influence. Already, we have been witness to a paradigm shift that the education sector is undergoing for quite sometime. Technology is poised to be the most significant intermediary in the process of teaching and learning. With the advent of the Covid 19 pandemic, millions of students from every nook and corner of this earth have been driven out of their classroom spaces, and teachers are forcefully confined to their homes. Higher education stands disaggregated, and faculty and students are grappling with the sudden new norm of completely tech-mediated teaching and learning.

Over the past two decades, this transformation to online learning was happening in fits and starts, across colleges, universities, skill development companies, corporate learning centers. Most policy level changes remained half baked attempts emanating from traditional mindsets. At best, old processes were replicated with some modern technology tools for a few courses as an ‘experiment’, or part of their existing classroom courses as ‘blended learning’.

This is not the case anymore. Nearly sixty million students across the planet are confined to the four walls of their homes. This is happening during a crucial period of February to May which normally sees a flurry of curricular & assessment activities. Educational institutes & students alike are under tremendous pressure to save valuable academic hours and re-invent their teaching & learning skills through the only possible method viz. the online platform. The long term implication of this radical change for all the stakeholders in education is now becoming clearer.The new ,totally technology driven education can be labeled as Education.4.0.after the first three waves of educational system that evolved in 2000 years of civilization . The most ancient was the Gurukul system (one master to few pupils) followed by the traditional university system (one to many learners) and thereafter the distance learning (one to many learners across the spectrum).

A few questions arise in our mind:

  1. While online education has been around for quite a while,why did it not take over from the conventional system in the pre Covid era ?
  2. When most businesses have been functioning online , why has the educational sector been lagging ?

While it can be easily argued that the inertia & the rigid attitudes of our administrators and policy makers are mainly to blame for this state of affairs, the truth is that even our business sector harboured such laggardness for several decades. It is only the advent of digital revolution that brought about a massive wave of efficiency & effectiveness in its functioning and the pure economics coupled with convenience washed away all the outdated systems & procedures. It is pertinent to state that the education sector has not so far experienced any such digital wave.The impediments to these reforms are probably the following:

  1. Abysmal completion rates in the digital higher education system.
  2. Lack of rigorous assessment framework.
  3. Total lack of transparency in the improvement of knowledge, creative skills and competency required for industrial applications.
  4. Non contextual delivery. Context is a key factor for success in higher education and influences learning outcomes.

While the environment is conducive to the digital revolution,the following factors would tend to drive success in the online method of education:

  1. Online learning is not simply a process of utilizing a library of video lectures and e- books for conversion of class notes into PDF formats.Creating high quality digitized learning must be contextualized and “byte sized” so as to generate proper interest & engagement in learning. Such an endeavour demands appropriate skills which not many can boast of. Suitable collaborations between universities & industries are essential for success of the digital pivots.
  2. Use of digital pedagogy requires its proper understanding to render it meaningful. Every faculty has to carry out his teaching & research work in collaboration with external expert for the way forward.
  3. Classrooms have diverse learner groups. In conventional pedagogy,the best of teachers derive a content-cluster as mean of the class “collective ability” and prior knowledge.The teaching-learning transactions is then customized according to the constructed mean.But this strategy will not stand the scrutiny of an online environment. Institutions need to spend a lot of time in the context of diverse learner profiles & contents and weave it into the programme design.
  4. Newer subjects of AI, Machine Learning etc and deep learning models can create customized learning plans & methods.
  5. Online learning is not about a single pedagogical model but an aggregation of various models.It is a specialized learning science that combines behavioural analytics, psychology, content delivery & assessment to guage a learner’s journey.
  6. Put learning & not just technology on the forefront.
  7. Notwithstanding all of the above ,offline education will not become obsolete even in the post covid era.The strategy should comprise a discrete blending of classroom learning & online digital education.
  8. Faculties should desist from the practice of merely transposing a class room to online medium without applying the science of digital learning.
  9. Universities & education administrators should shed the rigidity of “know all” stance & learn to collaborate with digital learning specialists in order to train their teachers & redesign education to suit the online academic environment.
  10. The immediate next area to be tackled is research which is presently dominated by resourceful entities. One has to next tackle the challenges in transformation of the face of research through the online platform.

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