COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. All sectors, including the education sector, have been drastically affected all sectors including education. The world is searching for new strategies to cope with this pandemic and its aftermath. Higher educational institutions are now looking at online teaching-learning as a window of hope. Many institutions and teachers have taken efforts to incorporate online education and are trying to use tech tools to such as Learning Management Systems (LMS) and web conferencing platforms such as Udemy, Educadium, CourseCraft, and Skillshare, and are trying out different means of reaching out to their students who are quarantined in their own homes and towns and villages. The apex bodies such as the UGC and AICTE have also appealed to teachers and have advised students to make effective use of web learning. But sceptics and cynics have created myths about web learning, which we need to debunk so that we can transition effectively so that knowledge and skill sharing is not disrupted but is continued in different ways through diverse platforms and tools.
Online teaching is meant for the young and techno-savvy
I have heard people say: “I’ve another two years to retire and I’m not inclined to learn anything new, especially online teaching, at this stage of my life.” Or “Oh, these online teaching practices are for those in their 30s, surely not for those in their 50s.” A few others have commented: “Virtual teaching is for those who are techno-savvy, not for people like me who are averse to technology.”
The fact is that everyone — young and old, and those who are conversant with and averse to technology — has to embrace technology and live with it. In other words, technology in tertiary education has come to stay and all teachers have to make a clear and conscious shift despite their age and attitude. Successful people in any walk of life are those who love and welcome change.
Online teaching is only a stopgap arrangement
There is no denying the fact that we are living through difficult times because of the coronavirus pandemic. Against this backdrop, quite a few argue that online teaching is only a stopgap arrangement—at the most for a semester or two. Some feel that when normalcy returns, it will be back to chalk and talk. So, why bother to learn new teaching methodologies? The fact is that online teaching has already become an integral part of our educational system and irrevocable changes have been made in our teaching-learning process. COVID-19 has drastically altered our teaching methodologies and there is no going back. The winners are those who embrace technology and look at online education not as a long-term game changer.
Online teaching is not egalitarian
Some argue that online teaching subtly favours those who have access to high technologies and turns down the disadvantaged sections of society. There may be some truth here but the larger fact is that online education is meant for all. In most cases, all that the students need is a smartphone and most have smartphones with Internet connectivity. Most students can access Zoom or Google Hangout or Cisco WebEx Meeting using their smartphones. Therefore, the claim that online teaching will exacerbate the social and economic divide among students is not justified. It is true that in rural and semi-urban areas, high speed Internet may not be available around the clock. But online teaching, especially the asynchronous mode, will certainly help all students because of its flexibility.
Technology will eventually replace the teacher
Till the dawn of the third millennium, higher educational institutions in India were preponderantly teacher-oriented. The last two decades have brought some welcome change in that there have been conscious attempts to make the curricula student-centred. But this pandemic has brought in yet another paradigm shift — the conscious and deliberate move towards technology. Earlier, teachers were synonymous with chalk and duster but are now seen with laptops and head-phones and that would sum up the change in pedagogy.
There is an innate fear in teachers, especially the ‘old timers’ that technology will eventually replace them. Teachers need to be reassured that they cannot be replaced but also need to be told that their role has changed significantly. Earlier, they were seen as the repositories of knowledge. But now they are seen as syllabus designers, content developers, knowledge sharers — all through the medium of technology. Therefore, they need to develop a different set of skills, especially knowledge of Learning Management Systems (LMS).
Students prefer face-to-face interaction, not online teaching
This is a subtle form of resistance. Teachers who are not very comfortable with technology and are hesitant to switch over to online teaching use a weak argument that their students prefer face-to-face interaction and not online teaching. This stems from a wishful thinking that teachers are indispensable and, without them, the teaching-learning system would collapse. The youth are not only conversant with technology but are also willing to embrace change in any form. They constantly look forward to new ideas and love to experiment and innovate and, therefore, will not have major issues in switching over to online education. Most students, if properly oriented, will switch over to online learning seamlessly and the onus is on the educational system, especially teachers, tofacilitate this transition smoothly. To these students, it is not a question of either/or but both technology and teachers.
Online teaching-learning is not as effective as face-to-face mode
There are quite a few advantages in face-to-face classroom transactions. The biggest is that teachers can think on their feet, strategise according to the content and the mood of their students and constantly monitor students’ intake. Unfortunately, these are absent in online teaching-learning. The content, mode and manner of delivery are already programmed for each module and teachers have little freedom once a module is prepared and delivered. Besides, the attention span of students in the online mode, especially in the asynchronous mode, is unpredictable. Therefore, it is argued that face-to-face interaction is better than online instruction.
There are merits and demerits in both ways. But good teachers are always good, whatever the mode. A good teacher will always adjust the content and delivery according to the mode and will ensure that there isn’t a big gap between input and intake. Therefore, the question of which is a better mode doesn’t arise.
Degrees and diplomas obtained through online education are not valid
In India, education is synonymous with offline education, which is equated with schools and colleges in their physical structures. The nation is still reluctant to accept degrees and diplomas earned through the online mode, which and subconsciously they are deemed inferior. Online education is assumed to be meant for those who don’t make it to regular colleges or universities for want of sound financial and/or academic credentials. Even in the job market, online degrees and diplomas are not treated on par with regular degrees and diplomas.
Two clarifications are required. The kind of online e-learning that we are discussing is, in fact, a blend of online and offline. Face-to-face interaction is supplemented with online teaching and this is due to the fact that regular classes cannot be conducted because of the lockdown, forcing teachers and institutions to switch over to the online mode. Therefore, it is strictly speaking not an online programme as such. Second, technically, there is no distinction between the degrees and diplomas earned through online or offline education. Both are virtually the same.
Extraordinary times and situations call for bold and radical solutions. In this new ecosystem created by this pandemic, teachers have to constantly reinvent themselves to address the exigencies born of this crisis and offer students whatever is relevant and helps them adapt to a crisis thereby making them resourceful and resilient.
The writer is the Dean, School of English & Foreign Languages, Gandhigram Rural Institute. Email email@example.com