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The daunting digital challenge before Indian universities

www.thedailyguardian.com | July 8, 2020
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The coronavirus pandemic has muted celebrations in the Indian universities. News of increase in Covid-19 cases trickled around various states and by 15 March, almost all schools and colleges were closed. Semesters were half-finished, exams were pending and no one had anticipated what will follow next. Within a week India went into a lockdown and it continues to be in it. While industries have started opening up cautiously, hospitals are overflowing with new cases, and offices across metros have slowly started to bring people in. But universities continue to remain shut. Meanwhile after 15 March, public and private colleges, institutions and universities tried to adapt and adopt to a new mode of online teaching but both students and professors struggled.

Access to technology is an issue and converting physical classrooms into online was not easy as well. In addition, issues of data, network, bandwidth, physical spaces inside home added to the complexities. Though MOOCs (Massive open online courses) have been making their presence felt in the last five years and platforms like Edex, Udemy, Coursera have made huge progress but what the Covid crisis did to universities was unthinkable.

Suddenly, universities had to rethink everything. Their business and revenue models took a hit and students started evaluating the value a university gives. A large part of a university life is the physical campus experience and if that is not available to a student, a lot needs to be thought about the relevance of the universities beyond granting degrees.

Administrators, founders, professors and deans have to seriously revisit the missions and visions of their academic institutions. FLAME University had anticipated this change and made significant investment in the online mode of teaching and learning. We trained our teachers, created online content and crafted blended approaches to learning. When we had to close down our campus on 15 March, we created a digital task force. We embarked on an internal programme in which various online tools, techniques and software are being explored. This enabled our faculty to enhance student learning and provide them an enriching experience. Over the next few weeks, our team conducted several training sessions for our faculty to keep them abreast of methodologies that have emerged to engage students online. This made us ready to take 200 plus courses online and deliver without compromising on student learning experience.

We conducted our examinations online for the current academic year, by making some changes in the evaluation criteria, which allows students to demonstrate their learning without any compromise.

For public and private universities, the reality check is that online learning is here to stay. How we blend it with physical learning is a key now. In future all of us have to invest in specialised software to create multiple models of student evaluations. Universities now need a chief learning officer and a chief technology officer. We have to start collaborating with edu-tech companies to create speaking platforms. Zoom and GMeet are at best virtual meeting platforms, and not entirely suitable to mimic classrooms. We need to equip physical classrooms to live-stream and record every single lecture. We have to rethink our semester plans, timetables and academic year. We have to also go beyond academic focus and start engaging with the larger world to make the courses relevant and industry ready.

We have to start doing a massive curriculum review to integrate the new realities of a postCovid world irrespective of the domains and disciplines. Public universities have to realise funds and modernise themselves. It’s been more than 1,000 years that universities have not innovated themselves, in a real sense! It is high time we did that. VCs and deans have their task cut out to take corrective actions which otherwise would not have been possible due to officialdom, political interference and general inertia.

Regulatory authorities too have to push for educational and university reforms. A virus has now forced us to change and we must. We must revisit our courses, curriculum, their relevance, pedagogy, academic structures and technology interventions. In this new world, only those who adopt technology and adapt will survive. It will be slow painful deaths for some universities but in the end education, teachers and students will win.

- Dr. Dwarika Prasad Uniyal, Professor - Marketing & Dean - Faculty of Business

*Views expressed are personal.

(Source: https://thedailyguardian.com/the-daunting-digital-challenge-before-indian-universities/)