Blended learning become the future of education due to COVID-19
New Delhi [India]: Towards the end of the last academic year, just as faculty and students were getting ready to bid goodbye to another academic year, the unprecedented pandemic- COVID-19 swept across the globe. Believing and hoping that it would soon be behind us, academic institutions moved with agility to online learning platforms, making ad-hoc arrangements. Institutions with robust IT systems and e-learning modules in place coped better than those without, but practically everyone began to learn how to use unfamiliar platforms for communication.
Face-to-face interactions were held on platforms like Zoom, Google meets, Microsoft Teams among others. Higher academic institutions were engaged in hectic familiarization sessions for faculty – training, experimenting with new pedagogy and evaluation techniques; erstwhile teaching and evaluation models underwent tectonic shifts and learning how to engage students in the world of faceless, impersonal and often one-sided interaction became critical. Faculty members however sorely missed several things – the lively interactions in class, the physical/facial responses from students during the session indicating comprehension or otherwise, the gleam of joy in students’ eyes when they crack a particularly tough problem, even the banter and fun in class which lightens the long days, getting to know the personality of each student in the class and gauging their aptitudes and attitudes, and the list could go on…
Edtech has been seen as a tool to help faculty to do what they would otherwise find difficult to do – for example letting each student learn a subject at his/ her own pace, identifying each student’s strong and weak points by assessing the speed at which the subject matter is learnt and assimilated, and thereafter helping the student to overcome the identified shortcomings. Analytics permits faculty to give customized inputs. While these are indeed valuable tools for a teacher, online learning is not adequate as the only mode of teaching as has been amply borne out by the recent experience.
In the longer run there must be attempts to address the challenges thrown up by online education which are very real and listed below:
* India is the third-largest country in the field of higher education in the world after the United States and China. Given the emphasis on equity and access, our colleges are teeming with students – there are 993 Universities and 50656 Colleges with about 37.4 million students in higher education (AISHE 2019). Given the size and diversity of the nation, the digital divide is deep. Rural India faces acute challenges of internet connectivity, bandwidth, even lack of electricity for major parts of the day. It is observed that government schools or state Universities that provide access to education in remote areas of the nation have had very minimal adoption of EdTech. Strengthening the IT infrastructure is thus imperative.
* Students need to interact with teachers, with peers and there is as much to be learnt in class as there is in the myriad of activities that physical presence permits. It fosters through a range of structured and unstructured activities, the spirit of camaraderie, selflessness, compassion and builds interpersonal skills, confidence and collaboration. Education is not merely knowledge – gathering; it is an experience that shapes personalities, that creates good, caring citizens for the globe.
“In order to ensure that these concerns are addressed, a fine amalgam of traditional physical classroom teaching and online interaction in the form of blended learning is the best way forward and the same is being adopted at Symbiosis International (Deemed University)”, says Dr Rajani Gupte, Vice-Chancellor of Symbiosis International (Deemed University). Blended learning refers to classroom-based learning blended with some educational material that is amenable to self-paced learning being provided to students in the online mode along with opportunities for online interaction. The best of both worlds!
Dr Gupte is also of the view that the online components can be held prior to the face-to-face sessions to enable the students to gain familiarity with the theory related to the courses. She also feels that students can revise, re-assess and reflect when they study at their own pace online, thereby strengthening the base. In her view, this would help seamless transition to the physical sessions, where the focus could be on discussion, application to real-world problems and learning life -skills.
Dr Gupte is of the opinion that the blended mode would be cost-effective since the physical component could be completed in a shorter duration which in turn would cost less. This mode would also provide flexibility in the design and delivery of the program, and offer opportunities to working professionals to quickly upgrade their skills. Faculty could leverage technology for specific courses, where they could make regular and remote evaluations more real-life application-oriented- a skill set that the 21st-century demands. The future of blended learning is promising!