More than 770 million students have been disrupted by COVID19 and the consequent lockdowns globally. The United Nations has warned of the unparalleled scale and speed of the educational disruption being caused by Coronavirus. Every house a school, every parent a teacher as Covid-19 impacts education of 250mn school students in India.
While much harm has been done by epidemic, institutions could use crisis to sharpen strategies and practices in areas such as internationalisation and e-learning. India has over 37 million students enrolled in higher education. An interruption in the delivery of education could cause long term disruption. The pandemic requires universities to rapidly offer online learning to their students. Fortunately, technology and content are available to help universities transition online quickly and with high quality, specially on the digital plank.
Learning or academics or education broadly has three functions:
(A) creation of learning content through research, writing, packaging with visuals; (B) dissemination of learning through classes, lectures, notes, self-study, discussions; & (C) assessment and evaluation of the education of the learner by various methods.
All these three have been majorly impacted by the self-isolation rightly imposed to ensure social distancing so that the learners and the mentors may first be protected from the spread of the infection of COVID19. The lockdown across the world is a boon and a bane for the teaching-learning community today.
Digital Haves and Have Nots Dichotomy
COVID-19 is, in fact, amplifying the struggles that children are already facing globally to receive a quality education. Even before the outbreak of the virus, there were 258 million out-of-school children across the globe — principally due to poverty, poor governance, or living in or having fled an emergency or conflict. While there are programs dedicated to ending the existing crisis in global education, the dramatic escalation that the COVID19 has introduced newer challenges for around 550 million children who were so far studying but do not have access to digital learning systems.
The digitally deprived large chunk of masses- being bereft of access to digital resources like a good internet connectivity, laptop or ipad for use, electric power and smart phone- across the globe are forced to waste productive learning time. The digital divide in every developing and under-developed society was never so glaring as it is now. Though more than 70% of Indian population has been covered now with mobile telephony, the resources needed for digital learning from distance or at home are not there with more than 1 out of 4 people in the country. Same is the case with youths in the formal learning age. This is the bane today.
On the other hand, if there was no enforced social distancing and students home-locked across the nation (and the globe), the transition of those with partial or full resources to complete digital learning pedagogy would not have been quickened. What demonetization did to fin-tech, lockdown has done to edu-tech.
Digital Learning Tools Today:
Digital learning on the go or from distance calls for tech-led holistic solutions. It requires several content pieces to be transmitted digitally. These content pieces can be in the form of pdfs, ppts, URLs, YouTube links, podcast links, case-studies, etc. There can also be e-books, audio-books, kindle based content, magzter sourced magazines, etc. Then this can involve learning without being face to face through boxes, as in Google Class, or learning face to face as in Zoom live audio-visual discussions. People may also use GoToMeetings or MicrosoftMeet sessions also. Attendance can be taken on Google Spreadsheet and through Whatsapp Group chat of a batch of students too.
There are other tools that can take digital learning on the go or from distance go miles ahead. Flipped classroom method with an active learning classroom can have all study resources given a day or two in advance, and the actual session starting with a quick quiz, then doubts clearance, and thereafter a few issues of the future or counter points to what were given earlier, like possible different scenarios or new research findings not shared earlier. This is quite an effective way of learning, which is internalized, collaborative, experiential, bottom-up, as distinctly different from teaching, which is instructional, hierarchic and top-down.
Then there are MOOCs, collaborative distance learning, wikis, blogs etc. Individual resource-rich institutes develop their customized secured and IPR protected Learning Management Systems, through the use of BlackBoard or TCSion LMS. Other LMS options like Kaltura or Impartus allowing video recording of talks also ar in use in many places. There are CourseEra courses, Swayam online lessons from UGC and similar other avenues to learn online.
Learning digitally can be further assisted with Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) which can take the viewer to an enhanced experience even integrating scenarios which are yet to happen creatively bringing them within the learning experience. These are immersive and contextual experiences, and artificial intelligence driven chatbots can further enhance the digital interface of the learner and the mentor.
Digital Learning Add-ons & Social Media Value-adds:
Incorporating big data analytics and content management, educators develop an individualized curriculum that enhances how each student learns (e.g. Playlist of content in WiseWire changing for each student). Many in the West have started the use of the millennials' language and style: Khan Academy video lessons, YouTube use, distinct style and language for young learners. Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, Imessage, Instagram, Facebook & Whatsapp are being creatively integrated with school education. There is a case of a management school in India, where the professor sends a 3 minutes interesting video on the subject he is taking up next through group whatsapp to increase interest in the batch towards the topic being taught.
In the US, the smart-phone applications like Socrative and Plickers are helping teachers interact and assess students’ progress, collaborate via cloud-based applications to work and solve a common goal. Teachers can publish real-time quizzes and polls for students via mobile devices to keep them engaged.
Further, using anything from iMovie to WeVideo, learners can create video as a learning resource. YouTube (with privacy settings) and SeeSaw or Flipgrid are also alternatives learners can make use of. The benefits of SeeSaw and Flipgrid are that students can add voice recordings or text sharing feedback with peers. Students became the co-creators of content and as a result, more engaged, including their parents. Useful apps like Book Creator, Explain Everything and EduCreations can be utilised towards this end.
There are various software used to create digital content, like Camtasia, Raptivity, Captivate, Articulate Online, etc.
Yes alongside, social media use extensively will support learning online. Facebook Page can broadcast updates and alerts. Facebook Group or Google Hangout with advanced features in G-suite can stream live lectures and host discussions. Twitter can act as a class message board. The 256 characters help to keep messages succinct. Instagram can be used for photo essays. One can create a class blog for discussions. There are many different platforms available, such as WordPress, SquareSpace, Wix, Blogger for that. And, one can create a class-specific Pinterest board as well.
Digital Assessment & Evaluation:
Online quiz, open book examination with time-managed and proctored question paper delivered online, applied questions not based on memory but comprehension, telephonic interview etc have been the usual ways of digital assessment and evaluation of learning.
Assessment refers to learner performance; it helps us decide if students are learning and where improvement in that learning is needed. Evaluation refers to a systematic process of determining the merit value or worth of the instruction or programme; it helps us determine if a course is effective (course goals) and informs our design efforts. Assessment and evaluation can be both formative (carried out during the course) and summative (carried out following the course). There can be many ways for the same. Mentors can make learners aware of expectations in advance (e.g. one week for feedback from deadline) and keep them posted (announcement: all projects have been marked). Mentors can consider auto-grading options offered by learning management systems (LMSs)/virtual learning environments (VLEs). For example, one can create tests that are multiple choice, true/false, or short answer essays and onne can set the assessments to automatically provide feedback.
Mentors can also incorporate a peer feedback process into their courses through student assignments. They get an initial level of feedback before submitting the assignment, prompt feedback, and you get a better assignment in the end.
One particular popular assessment option for online and blended learning is rubrics. In part, their popularity is based on the level of detail included. 'Rubrics help to define the characteristics of a high-quality assignment and help the student understand assignment and assessment expectations. Rubrics also provide a range of performance by establishing categories that span the range of possible outcomes, from basic to exceptional performance on task' (Palloff & Pratt, 2009, p.33).
If we are using an LMS/VLE, there are additional opportunities to micro-evaluate. This type of evaluation can occur through polls, reflections on your analysis of online transcripts, and student activity logs and reports. Notably, we can plan for such forms of evaluation during the course design process and embed them in the learning architecture.
Possibilities in Post COVID Education:
Hamish Coates, a professor at Tsinghua University’s Institute of Education, told Times Higher Education that “the first priority is for institutions to care for the people involved – students, faculty, staff and the communities we serve. This is a human situation.” Post this comes access to digital learning and the rest.
nline learning is the big winner from this – across all education levels; so proving quality now is at centre stage. However, going ahead, in the post COVID times, blended learning will be the way to go. The biggest future benefits of virtual instruction will come after our professors and students return to their physical classrooms. The necessity of teaching and learning with asynchronous (Canvas, Blackboard, D2L) and synchronous (Zoom) platforms will yield significant benefits when these methods are layered into face-to-face instruction. We will come back from COVID-19 with a much more widely shared understanding that digital tools are complements, not substitutes, for the intimacy and immediacy of face-to-face learning. Since professors are now moving content online, precious classroom time will be more productively utilized for discussion, debate and guided practice.
Online education will also be a strategic priority in every institute of higher education going ahead. Education managers will understand that online education is not only a potential source for new revenues, but also the core to every school's plan for institutional resilience and academic continuity. This post-pandemic understanding will change how HEIs plan for, manage and fund online education. Previously decentralized and distributed online course development and student support functions will be centralized, subject to institutional planning and cross-campus governance. Management of online learning will be integrated into existing academic leadership structures and processes. This is the other major impact going ahead.
Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Pro Vice Chancellor, Adamas University, Kolkata