Dr. Vidya Shankar Shetty has a through and through career experience in Academics and Education ranging from K12 to Higher Education. Her career map has had her play diverse roles right from establishment to governance, ranging from setting up new schools in India and abroad, colleges, compliance, and project handling of a greenfield University to an established University. Her current role as the CAO at Navkis, From the House of Ramaiah, has her play a crucial role in handling the Academics and Operations of the various Institutions under the group apart from setting up new initiatives.
Every mail that hits my mailbox if reflected on my phone, has me instinctively press the bell for my Assistant. And for those emails that have been missed by my lazy eye has my Assistant alert me on it. Not to suffice that, it gives me joy in asking for the print of each mail rather than scroll it on the screen which is left open for me. And then goes the time to choose and decide to dictate which mail needs a response and ignore the rest. ‘Lack of communication’ or ‘laziness’ ….let me shrug it off by saying, ‘I did not see the mail’ or ‘am afraid I never received it. Quick to admit, that I am a digital immigrant and not a digital native, I have made no attempts to acquire this new skill all this while. Apprehensive of using technology, I have been a stalwart of in-person education always and a staunch believer that learning cannot happen with technology. Seamless learning opportunities came my way, but I chose to skip them all, and today with the pandemic hitting me harshly, as the Leader of Higher Education, where I chose not to go beyond what is expected of me and continued with my instruction and judgement behind my table and indoors within my cabin; this technology and virtual classroom stepmothers me. Reminded of the poem ‘Ozymandias’ penned by P. B. Shelley, each line of which makes sense now:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
Feel like the traveller into the land of the digital natives and in this land remains only those trunkless legs of my glorious memories of the in-person administration and power that I used to wield once upon a time. My ‘shattered visage’ is completely shrunk as I do not even know how to use the computer screen or the platform that is used by all my students and staff in remote instruction today. Or else my visage on each screen would have possibly brought back some power to me. My frowns and my commands stay indoors with me as I am isolated from my own kingdom. And during these times, my subjects are not even close to me to afford support and temporary solutions to me. Lack of knowledge of technology, emerging trends in education, skill sets as required for building competence in technology has all added up to the snowballing situation that academic governance is in today.
Higher Education Institutions have been spending money on computer training for the past so many years. However, the irony has been that while teachers were enforced with this training, leaders seldom participated in these sessions and training. They failed to understand that ultimately the effective use of technology in education would be their responsibility. Complacency or attitude or simply the so claimed paucity of time never had them attend these sessions. Times have certainly changed now. A small respite in the last few months beginning of the year could have been an eye-opener for those who learnt from their mistakes. Those who did not look at technology in administration as an enrichment tool, finished it all during the second wave of the pandemic as they stand alone in the vast deserts of learning.
Principal and leader support has always been crucial for instructional improvement and setting performance standards. This virtual learning classroom time perhaps today is the ideal time for the Education leader to step into classrooms and discuss instructional strategies based on observation. While the culture has been set from last year to adapt teaching and technology; leadership and academic governance have not improved much. Meeting points on curriculum delivery can now be on how to improve the overall experience of embracing technology for a teacher and the learner. This is the time for leaders to connect with their counterparts in another country, state, district and continue with guest talks, expertise and lectures. Seminars and workshops can continue and the Leader could still preside over most of these gatherings and indulge in self-learning. While some leaders have been instrumental in promoting technology-based learning in their setups, when it came to progressing as a technology administrator, the governance collapsed in a virtual setup. Either they lack the skills or the interest in adapting to the new world and thus struggle in the system. All of us agree there is no charted programme, degree, or training that grooms us to be Educational Leaders. Education leadership comes from experience, hands-on learning, and the willingness of a leader to change and adapt to emerging trends in education.
The smarter leaders who banked on assistants have at least identified a team to collaborate with them and work out options for quality checks and improvement. Call it facilitative leadership or smartness of the leader, there has at least been an effective way of collaborating and remaining connected with all the stakeholders. But how far can they monitor this frequently remains to be a question. Leaders took pride as they went on rounds around their academic blocks with their retinue behind to make notes; effective adaptation of technology could have enabled them to conduct virtual meetings and
walk-through of classrooms during these times. Emails to faculty on class observations made would have built a connection with the teacher; and the performance matrix and observation continued. Activities planned on regular in-person engagement days can still continue. A freshers day would have a new meaning and definition, the environment could still be cared for on environment day, student council could still be elected and given responsibilities, and culture and ethnic days can be planned virtually too. Why do we mourn the loss of all these days? Innovation is all about adopting and adapting and dating technology effectively.
Has this impacted the image of the conventional leader? Certainly! Technology know-how is today a virtue, a quality that is most important for the leader to survive. Everyday tasks and meetings and reviews could have continued, while marketing and admission monitored and triggered had we embraced technology earlier. Orientation programmes and pastoral care can still be held online. Learning styles can be evolved by discussion and moderation, hands-on opportunities built for students and teachers. Learner outcomes need not be lost or buried but revisited and reworked to ensure that learning is progressive. Recruitments could still go on and overseeing admin departments of finance and planning and implementation and assessment can still be done regardless of the situation we are in. Student achievements can be presided over by the leader, while addressing students regularly would keep them motivated and encouraged to perform better.
We invest lakhs in household gadgets and luxury. It is painful to see Education leaders and senior management personnel who do not even have the right equipment for access to technology at home. Where TV sets adorn the entire wall in the living area space,
network and internet connectivity has never been given importance. The best use of technology for some of these leaders, has been using their smartphones and WhatsApp and social media platform exchanges. Instructional learning, academic governance, and virtual classrooms continue to be the antique land. A PowerPoint presentation that needs to be made, a printer that can support at home, at least a PC could have been the personal assistant in these days, or else we are reminded of Ozymandias the Great as Shelley’s words resonate in our ears:
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
To conclude, as Higher Education Leaders we are also instructional leaders apart from competent administrators. Our attitude would certainly determine the culture of the entire Institution. We cannot persuade our teachers and students to opt for the online mode of teaching and learning, if we are not convinced about adopting technology. Electronic interactions, reviews, meetings, conferences and even extra-curricular activities is a must to sustain education for the future. As the leader we need to acquire at least basic knowledge of technology and aligned skills ourselves and implement them aggressively in our domains. Otherwise where do I go from here as an Education Leader?