An educator in the areas of Business Communication, Organizational Communication, Corporate Communication, with over 18 years of experience in academia, Dr. Baishali Mitra holds expertise in grooming budding entrepreneurs, training post-graduate students, and corporate executives. At present, she is engaged in research in the areas of Women Entrepreneurship, and Development Communication. Her research in mobile-enabled language learning under the UGC Grant has helped students in anytime, anywhere learning. She is a qualified Business English Certificate (Cambridge English) Trainer and certified in Corporate Communication. She specializes in Communication for Professional Success, Effective Persuasion and Negotiation Skills.
With a severe threat to public health, an extremely high level of contagion, a noticeable mortality rate, and an absence of a preventive vaccine, COVID-19 became a global pandemic that is unprecedented in nature, compelling every country for a ruthless emergency. As a result, changes in behaviour were summoned to ‘flatten the curve’. Though the primary concern was public health yet the ‘stay at home’, ‘lockdown’, ‘social distancing’, ‘hourly curfew’, ‘weekend curfew’, etc. have borne a humungous effect on the socio-economic domain. And, the education landscape has been one such sphere that is impelled into abrupt changes by being forced to embrace emergency remote teaching-learning. All of a sudden, the entire student-body got shifted from face-to-face classrooms to remote learning via digital technology. Faculty members needed to adapt to remote teaching with almost no time for any training. There was a sudden shift to the technology-based medium and the entire course materials were shifted to online learning. This has been a forced migration to Digital Learning, almost without any proper planning, and the educational institutions are still struggling to cope with this unforeseen push. India has almost 37 million students enrolled in higher education, and this sudden interruption has caused a disruption whose effects might be palpable even in the future.
Now, in the second phase of the pandemic, when the initial panic has subsided, colleges and universities, though still not very candid are gradually opening up for face-to-face classes, the Hybrid Learning scenario appears to be the best choice. Previous research has indicated amply that blended learning will give better outcome-based results. However, faculty members or parents have always been skeptical about online learning, and hence, despite authentic research data results, it could never trump the face-to-face. The cost-benefits of the courses had made MOOCs, such as Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, edX extremely popular making researchers wonder if these will eventually disrupt traditional learning, but as mentioned earlier, they could never become a substitute for traditional learning. For many years, especially in higher education, online learning has existed alongside traditional teaching models. According to the study of Inside Higher Education and Gallup 44% and 38% of higher education instructors had taught an online course and blended learning course respectively.
In this context, we must note, now that we are compelled to accept remote-teaching, the mind-set and perspectives for online education are also gradually transforming towards better acceptance. We are already forced into global experimentation with remote teaching, and it is time we devour the outcome and the feedback because the colleges and universities need to reassess their roles, re-imagine their strategies, by embracing the Hybrid Model and validating it, both for their survival and for catering to the educational need of the students effectively.
We cannot ignore the fact that the progress of remote teaching during the initial emergency period has raised a few alarm bells amongst academia already. During the pandemic enrolments were unpredictable and education institutions had already faced tremendous financial pressures. In addition to that, there are cases when students have preferred algorithms as their teachers rather than human professors. Huge content videos were already available online and hence that created doubt amongst students’ fraternity regarding the justification of the course fees. The flexibility of online learning is beginning to raise issues like whether a long-term residential experience holds its past laurel anymore.
On the other hand, in a country like India where the digital divide is a significant concern, and IT infrastructure is yet to be completely reliable in semi-urban and rural areas, remote learning for many is a serious struggle. The digital divide in developing or under-developed society has never been so glaringly obvious as it is now.
With both this unease running parallelly at present, the Hybrid teaching-learning model combining both face-to-face sessions and remote learning, physical set up, and the digitised one appear to be the steady choice. Moreover, we realise that similar health crises or climate issues may enforce the same emergency on us all over again, anytime in the future. Hence, along with the traditional infrastructure, it is advisable for Indian Universities and Educational Institutions to build stronger and foolproof digital capabilities and a technological, ready-to-change mindset that will have the resilience to effortlessly swivel through any crisis, whether that’s a prolonged Covid-19 eruption or any other challenges in the future.
The New Era to Build Back Better
Integration of online learning and traditional learning can be a big winner and promising possibilities beyond the COVID-19 era. We will come out of Covid-19 with a much more extensive understanding of the digitised, online learning. And this definitely will strengthen the clear focus for the future learning landscape.
Adaptation, as and when needed to changing conditions encourages the emergence of a blended or Hybrid Model seamlessly combining the synchronous with asynchronous, the online with the on-campus, the lecture-based with the discussion-based, the teacher-directed with the self-directed that will prove to be effective to mitigate the risk of current or future crises.
In this context, it is essential to plan an agile and resilient teaching-learning model that would adapt to any circumstantial change. It is entirely up to the institutions to prove that their services are worthwhile to invest in, even if their teaching-learning methods change. To create a new era of higher education a new design approach is mandatory. The design approach needs to pay attention to the following intervention:
- Learn from experiences, Practice with feedback
The institutions must learn to keep a record of which classes/courses are more effective when taught remotely, and which ones did not go very well when taught online. The Hybrid Model can be worked out accordingly, pivoting between face-to-face and online mode for different courses or topics.
- Bring in Resilience and Agility
The institutions need to accept and enact flexibility in diverse levels. First, the approach needs to be student-centered, inclusive, and engaging. Secondly, the instructional-design strategy should include in-person instruction and asynchronous online content. Third, face-to-face classrooms may also accommodate students who would like to join remotely by adding infrastructural facilities suited for online teaching in the same classroom.
- Learn to Author as well as Curate content
A lot of importance is to be given to teaching-learning content/material that fit the Hybrid Model. A specialised content will bring in the edge for the institution. When the facilitator is creating content and course material the person needs to wisely decide which part to the author and which portion to curate as that would help in dividing the time wisely.
- Create Activities for Live Sessions
The engagement of students has been an issue for the online teaching model. Activities and discussion forums are to be wisely modeled keeping both face-to-face and remote teaching in mind. Strategically designed activities aligned with learning goals will create satisfactory engagement for students.
- Map Course with the changing world scenario
The relevance of teaching is another significant area that is required to be given importance. Courses related to business, management, entrepreneurship, social sciences, economics, political science should constantly be mapped and updated with the post-crisis landscape of the world.
- Personalise Content and Mode for value addition
For the Hybrid Learning scenario, customising teaching content, and assignments mapped with individual needs is a possibility that will add value to the teaching-learning process. Preparing a specific group with special support content or videos is now possible so that they remain at par with others during the live-sessions. Students may have the flexibility to choose what they need to learn and when they need it. Also, personalised continuing education might become the norm and the Institutions should be ready to facilitate that. When students will have multiple pathways to learn the same content, such as through live sessions, recorded videos, animations, augmented realities, algorithmic engagement, education in the true sense will embrace diversity.
- Teachers to become Mentors, Students to become Learners
Value addition will be possible only when teachers will take up the role of mentors as information and knowledge are already available at the fingertips of the students via digital means. These mentors will be needed to motivate, inspire, direct, initiate the students to a new domain of learning, bringing in innovation and new perspectives, lending a support-shoulder to the students.
At the same time, students need to explore the autonomy in learning that they get, and understand that with autonomy comes responsibility. Students must realise that the onus of learning to a major extent, now, lies on their shoulders.
- Engagement is the winning game
Whether face-to-face or online the actual value of education will lie not just on marks, degree, or certification but majorly on students’ engagement. The success of the course both from teachers’ and students’ perspectives will be decided by the level of classroom and online, social media academic engagement of the mentors and the learners. The quality of the content shared by the mentors, and the value, as well as the volume of engagement of the learners, will measure the academic success or the effectiveness.
- Be Digitally Savvy
Many faculty members across the world have often expressed their awkwardness to handle technology. Covid 19 has shown us that at times there may be no other way than befriending technology. Hence, un-learning old ways and re-learning new ways of pedagogy, content creation, crafting activities, quizzes, assignments fitted for online will be the ways of survival and success. Extensive use of social media, Facebook Page, Google Hangout, Instagram, Class Blog, WhatsApp discussion forum, Creating Youtube Videos, Pinterest Board, etc. should be integrated seamlessly into the curricula to engage the students smoothly.
- Architect Sturdy Digital Infrastructure
Institutions should pay attention to the IT Infrastructure to enable a hybrid learning facility. Be it a brick-and-mortar classroom or a Google Classroom, or learning through Zoom live audio-visual discussions, the changeover should be swift and smooth as and when required with a strong IT architecture and WiFi facilities.
In conclusion, it can be said that to build back a better future it is essential to understand that digital tools and online teaching may not be a substitute for traditional classroom teaching yet, but they definitely will complement learning, paving the way towards the emergence of a hybrid teaching-learning system. A hybrid educational institution will be nimble, agile, and resilient engaging in a technology-led transformation, shifting the focus entirely on the quality and value of higher education.