FLAME in the news | April 29, 2020

Professors have to completely rethink their courses and their pedagogy to suit the new normal as they can’t teach an offline course in an online mode, says DWARIKA PRASAD UNIYAL

The world as we knew it has changed forever and we did not even realise it. It changed as if Thanos has snapped his finger in order to restore balance. Very scary thought indeed. But look at the positive side of it. We realised that it is possible to be productive with a Zoom/MS Team/Slack/G-Meet meeting than a physical one. We realised that the countless hours we spent travelling was indeed not needed. We realised that it is possible to teach our students sitting miles away, be effective and engage with them.

Teachers world over have learnt a new lesson that they are not the all and end all of knowledge. They are facilitators in the learning process of a student and hence it is important for them to realise their limitations. Teaching is not important, making students learn is.

At a time when universities have locked down and dorms are empty; at a time when the whole world is fighting this grim battle with a contagion called COVID-19, higher education is at a point of serious disruption. Universities have not changed themselves since the first one started in Bologna, Italy in 1088.

They had a similar model the world over — a large campus, huge infrastructure, big lecture halls, a large pool of research focused faculty, tenure track system, large endowments for more buildings and labs and a talented student body who was paying through their nose to get expensive degrees.

In all of this, one thing was missing, actual research on how teaching-learning is happening in the class room. Is it teacher to learner, or is it peer-to-peer or is it the internet in post Google world.

Universities had started their online ventures couple of decades ago but it remained mostly for executive education or short term certificate programmes. It was blasphemous to even think of doing away with large lecture theatres. MOOCS by prestigious universities led the way to slowly challenge this notion, with new private players and experiments in the west and in India becoming popular. However, they still remained niche.

Higher education in the post COVID world is ready for a drastic change in the way it had operated. Increasingly, with the success of mass online teaching of all kinds of courses, students will start demanding more blended/online classes. Hence cost structure will have to be aligned with new forms of learning.

Universities have to invest huge amount of money in completely revamping their IT infrastructure to facilitate online learning. Both synchronous and asynchronous learning methods have to be adopted by the teachers. Current platforms are not meant for teaching; they are good for conference calls and e-meetings. Hence technology companies have to create a complete different technological platform which will enable mass teaching from remote locations, enable attendance, assignments, group discussions, online proctored examinations and multiple other features which will mimic a real class room.

Professors have to completely rethink their courses and its pedagogy to suit the new normal as they can’t teach an offline course in an online mode without thinking through it. A lot of learning has to be curated and not just converted into online submission.

There would be huge learning curve for faculty as students are more tuned with the reality of connected world. Professors like me have to completely unlearn old ways and re-learn the new.