Replicating a classroom through communication tools such as Microsoft Team and Zoom is not the full story for effective digital education.
By Parimal Mandke
2020 was a black swan year that no one could have predicted. Faced with lockdown and issues like social distancing, educational institutions across the country were compelled to adopt an online mode of teaching and learning. While this approach has allowed at least some engagement between faculty and students, it is far from optimal. Replicating a classroom through communication tools such as Microsoft Team and Zoom is not the full story for effective digital education. For a while it did seem to work because at least there was some academic engagement, but teachers struggled to keep their students’ attention on learning.
However, as online exams and tests became the norm, students found it difficult to focus, to determinedly study. The stress of possible job losses in the family due to the pandemic, and lost ability to go anywhere put undue pressure on their minds. The pandemic forced people to re-think and re-imagining a lot of things. All of a sudden, we were expected to learn new skillsets, gain knowledge, and learn ways of teaching to safeguard our future generation.
So, what does it mean for the future of higher education?
Students have now gotten used to this new system of education. It has been more than a year now, and it’s safe to assume traditional methods of studying will have to arrive at blended model that combines the best features of both, the physical classroom learning and digital learning. Remote collaboration and communication between students, parents and teachers have become a crucial element in adding value to studies, even when children have been at home, away from campus. The need of the hour is a comprehensive ecosystem that is a perfect blend of both, innovative tools and technologies for teaching-learning combined with opportunities for socialization among peers and with teachers in a physical natural setting.
Many Universities have shifted to providing their students with online resources, an example being NUgget, the integrated digital learning platform of NIIT University. NUgget replicates Campus environment in a virtual mode, where all activities that a student would be engaged in Campus, including co-curricular, take place virtually. The role of teachers and educators have become immensely important. From re-imagining curricula to suit the current model, to discovering content that they can share with students out of classrooms, to empowering students for self-learning with access to rich digital learning resources, has been hugely beneficial for students.
The challenges however are many. Online higher education is not the best model for India where we have a lot of students from rural areas with no access to basic IT infrastructure. We also need to take into consideration that traditional learning enables socialization, which is absent or minimal in digital learning. Socialization happens not just inside the classrooms, but also in other social settings through peer-to-peer interactions, creating real-world experience and building confidence in learning. There are also other limits: subjects that require introspection, deep discussion and debate are more effectively taught in traditional settings.
Therefore, Universities will have to switch gears and provide a system of blended learning for their students that includes a myriad of digital activities that can collectively deliver effective learning. This model can then incorporate innovative pedagogies, and technology-based teacher-student engagement to deliver education effectively. The National Education Policy (NEP 2020) with thrust on technology gives us a policy framework for the same. Adopting a blended model that uses technology as a tool is the future and that is exactly what the NEP 2020 has envisioned.
Moreover, with technology being at the forefront, curricula will have to be developed keeping technology in mind. Having an edge in digital courses such as AI or ML will be a sure-shot way of getting good job opportunities since everything has shifted online. Now that we know what the future holds, education will never go back to its traditional ways!
(The author is the Acting President of NIIT University. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)