A first-generation entrepreneur, Dr. Jitin Chadha is the Founder Director of Indian Institute of Art and Design and Indian School of Business and Finance. Dr. Chadha was awarded his Doctorate in Finance in 2011, in a grand ceremony chaired by the HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal and Prof. Dinesh Singh, Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University.
The COVID-19 pandemic in one fell sweep has altered the future of teaching and learning. It has shown us our shortcomings and vulnerabilities, confronted us with hard facts forcing us to address the changes that the education sector needs to embrace now to reform and rebuild itself.
Over the years, technology has been utilised to improve teaching and learning and help our students be successful. The concept of “force multiplier” when applied to technology allowed students access to online resources, assignments and assistance from teachers on-demand without the physical connection. It also expanded the school day by allowing them this access anytime and from anywhere with just an internet connection.
Although design institutes amongst others have openly utilised this technological feature or outsourced it, it still formed only a part of the curriculum. The pandemic brought home the fact that our older business model was now in trouble as students and teachers remained confined within their homes. Thus as institutions and leaders, academicians, administrators, service providers, technological partners and students, we needed to up our game, be forward thinkers and adapt to a “new normal,” which involves understanding learning science and using technology as the intermediary to enable teaching and learning.
The core competency of any institute is the unique blend of imparting quality education and creating a conducive learning environment. Online teaching has now become a strategic priority emphasising the need for value-based education and re-establishing standards of excellence. It has meant encouraging academicians to upskill, innovate and create learner-centric digital content, find newer interactive teaching methodologies and assessment mechanisms. The new understanding emphasises that simply interchanging classroom teaching format onto the online medium as a notion of doing ‘live’ classes isn’t effective. It calls for a mindset change to create the correct interplay of synchronous and asynchronous teaching methodologies to influence learning outcomes, elicit interest and productively engage with students and cater to different learner groups without compromising on quality.
The pandemic has brought about a changed mindset with regards to the age-old perception of the value of a teacher’s physical presence in classrooms while simultaneously looking at how that value can be leveraged effectively during online sessions. There is a need now to clearly understand the workload of teachers as they combine offline and online teaching practices.
Online education has also put the ownership of learning on to the students. Students learn best in an interactive and socially engaged environment. Teachers working closely with students help explore their difficulties and requirements, leading to a better understanding of their learning journey and progress. It also supports that students have different learning styles some are self-motivated while others need the constant nudge to move ahead.
Art and design courses are inherently hands-on, experiential and participatory. As assessments and placements are evolving as critical concerns, questions around how effective and valuable online education can be and how learners can apply their acquired learning to practical workplace scenarios need careful thought. This has, therefore highlighted the need to relook and redesign our existing physical campuses while adhering to health and safety guidelines.
Reopening institutes call for streamlining processes that will help screen students and staff upon arrival, increasing cleaning and disinfecting the facilities, encouraging hand washing and sanitising and wearing face masks.
Within classrooms, social distancing can be created by strategically altering the existing space with clearly demarcated coloured markings, so desks are sufficiently separated. Flexible furniture and movable furnishings can also add to space. Social distancing can also be encouraged by making certain operational decisions like staggering class timings to limit students within a physical space and remove overcrowding, dividing students into groups and rotating their schedule, so they have a mix of classroom teaching and home learning, limiting student movements by only allowing teachers to move between classrooms, restricting sharing of commonly utilised high-touch materials like sewing machines, library books, design tools, supplies and equipment. Students should ideally be encouraged to bring in their supplies to reduce the risk of physical contact. A combination of teaching methods, both offline and online, also ensures students are not present within the facilities for extended periods.
Due diligence with regards to wireless connectivity within the physical campus need for setting up mobile hotspots, using mobile whiteboards and large writing surfaces for teachers, exploring electronic learning tools and devices are crucial to upgrade the educational facility.
Facilities can be made more hygienic by removing carpets and heavy upholstery and enhancing air filtration. The communal spaces where much interaction happens for students like cafeterias should rethink about the type of food being served. It’s best to ensure that students eat home-cooked food and refrain from sharing. Similarly, there is a need to think creatively about underutilised spaces and structures around the physical campuses.
The pandemic has encouraged positivity in multiple ways. It’s not only helped us to move away from the world as we knew it but also look into the future. All it requires is careful planning, equal involvement of all stakeholders and financial intelligence to continue imparting quality education and grooming the citizens of the future.