“Creating a box is one thing, ideating how you can create a better box is design thinking,” says Nandita Abraham, president, Pearl Academy. Design, she adds, is a very important tool to solving problems of the future. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, she says the entire faculty and students of Pearl—which has six campuses across India—have adjusted to the new normal, in part because the institute had invested in a learning management system four years ago. Excerpts:
How long did it take for Pearl Academy campuses to go online?
We had invested in an LMS platform four years ago, so within four days of stopping physical classroom we were able to start fully online classes. This included training the faculty. Now, we are doing a lot of webinars, a lot of knowledge exchange is taking place, online workshops are happening. Two weeks into June and we would close the semester. In terms of learning outcomes, everything will be achieved.
In fact, prior to the lockdown, about 18% of our teaching and learning was already online, but it wasn’t looked at that seriously, but because of that head-start, when the lockdown happened, we were able to easily shift to a fully online mode.
Are there any students who are struggling with online learning, maybe because they don’t have access to fast internet speeds?
We currently have nine students who are struggling to keep up with the class. We are doing our best to send them class recordings via emails. Teachers are reaching out to them. During such times, support is not just in terms of learning; our faculty is doing a lot of pastoral care—students aren’t used to being at home 24 hours a day, some may have small homes, there may not be enough privacy, so the faculty is in touch with them. All our students also have free access to a counselling app.
Pearl Academy expanded so much over the last few years with multiple campuses, and now education is turning online. Is there a rethink on physical expansion?
With physical expansion we were able to cater to different geographies, and a diverse set of students. Now, with online, there is a rethink on how to best impart knowledge. For example, the best of faculty can teach a large number of students at the same time, and so on. However, going forward, we will still need a teacher in/for every class, because design is a bit more interactive than many other areas of study. There could be a master teacher at one place, but teachers for each class are needed, even online.
What learning has been there for students and participants in the on-going webinars?
While different webinars focus on different areas, at the root lies design thinking—apart from domain skills, the future skills needed are the ability to be creative, collaborative, being able to solve problems and so on. That is something what design thinking can enable.
What good things do you foresee coming out of the lockdown, for students?
One, a lot of internships have been turned into industry projects, and every week there are more than 50 master classes happening. These are the advantages of online.
Two, all our students have access to an international experience, maybe a semester abroad or a month abroad. As the lockdown started a group of students were to take that, and we converted all those projects online. Great work has been happening between Pearl Academy students and Manchester Metropolitan University students, and Pearl and Whitecliffe New Zealand students. Going forward, maybe overall travel will reduce, but we have come to realise that collaboration is possible without intensive travel as well.