"Are semester system, ‘smart’ classrooms and online teaching serving the purpose?"


#1

In a recent article of the same title, a Distinguished Professor from BHU, Prof. S. C. Lakhotia, expressed his concerns about the declining quality of graduates in India. According to him, the current semester system and the increasing dependence on online teaching and virtual classrooms are largely responsible for this decline. As educators, what do you think?


#2

Online education is here to stay. It is only going to increase as it allow students to study at their own convenience. It is more of a problem in testing. The dependence of grades earned during a semester on 2-3 tests over the the course of the semester puts all the emphasis on the tests rather than learning.

Multiple papers have shown that it is useless to derive grades based on the performance in a couple of tests. More discussions, more activities, multiple short quizzes, and increased learning and writing exercises improve student retention and understanding of the subject matter.


#3

Is the definition of education started changing with the changing times ? Is the objective only rolling out students with mere degrees with variety of courses in unprecedented times? Education is not only dissemination of information but it is the knowledge created carefully by the teachers understanding the variable needs of the students .

Are we giving enough time for the students to observe ,understand and develop gradually? If not it is going to affect somewhere the foundation of knowledge .Conventional class rooms cannot be substituted as learning takes place not only for the students but for the teacher also during the discussions . The personality development of the student is the result of various academic and non academic discussions in the class. Online education cannot substitute but only supplement the face to face education


#4

Online education may stay but it can only supplement but not replace the physical and interactive classrooms. As a social being, physical contacts and interactions are must for integrated personality development.


#5

Physical interactions are very helpful, I agree. However, we also need to bring changes in the way we design the curriculum. Before the semesters start, teachers should write down the student learning objectives they want to achieve and not focus entirely on the material they want to teach. It is the age where all the information is available on internet. We need to go beyond the understanding or knowledge-level teaching. Curriculum should enable students to apply what they are taught in different scenarios and eventually find holes in that knowledge to find new things. This will require going beyond traditional 2-3 tests over the semester.


#6

Absolutely true that the curriculum has to be redesigned. Though there were recent efforts by UGC in redesigning the syllabus by Learning outcome based curricular frame work (LOCF) format but what requires as rightly said while teaching a teacher should generate interest for making the student go beyond the curriculum .The innovative ways in the assessment can be introduced to assess the real understanding by making the examination system more flexible


#7

Students asking questions in classrooms is a good indicator for learning. It means they are thinking critically. Large-scale online courses (or MOOCS) and virtual classrooms are far less potent in fostering this activity compared to classical classrooms with chalk board teaching.


#8

With due respect, I completely understand the arguments given by Prof. Lakhotia as I myself am a product of annual system and taught by exemplary mentors, just like Prof. Lakhotia, in a so-called ‘traditional’ or ‘conventional’ manner. Having said that, I can not agree to them completely. ‘Smart classrooms’ or online teaching are as much responsible for declining the quality of graduates in India as any other methodology of teaching. It is difficult to held one or the other responsible or positioning one against another. It’s all about creating a balance of various pedagogical tools (face-to-face as well as online) for the most effective results.
I truly feel that generating such ‘blends’ where ‘smart’ classrooms and online teaching is employed in a way to not loose focus of the learning objectives and outcomes will be very useful. Further, in my view younger faculty with more expertise in technology and senior faculty with more wisdom and grip on the true essence of teaching-learning process should come together to make education versatile and efficient .


#9

As a kid cricket as a sport was played only as 5-day test matches. Soon, thereafter, one day internationals were introduced. It felt too fast paced, with only 50 overs. The players might have faced some difficulty adjusting to the new format but it was exciting to the viewers. One day internationals became the mainstay of cricket. When T-20s were introduced, I was completely turned off. I am still not a fan of this format. I felt that the spirt of the sport has been drained off and taken over by other forces. But, it looks like that format is here to stay and people seem to be enjoying that as well.

What has cricket got to do with a discussion on annual, semester and quarter systems in academia?

(As a graduate student at The Ohio State University (OSU), I experienced the quarter system which was even shorter than a semester. It felt crazy initially and I got used to it. There were strengths and weaknesses. There were high points and low points. Despite these fluctuations, I had a great time learning and growing. It is another story that OSU changed to the semester system a few years after I graduated).

No matter the format, the game has to be played well. The rules of the game will change, and they have to change, with the changing format. But the day the game is not played well, it’s not worth watching whatever be the format. In other words, if the game is played well with high standards, aiming at excellence, every format has something good and exciting to offer.

Coming to college and University teaching, the main issue is not necessarily whether it is the annual or semester systems, but a degeneration of standards, and a systemic absence of excellence. It does not seem like we have invested the right kind of energies, resources and people that would improve the quality of the teaching and learning. We, as a community of academics, have not thought through carefully how to nurture, grow and sustain an exemplary teaching and learning ecosystem. Teaching, at least in the higher education arena, is almost like an afterthought. We don’t seem to be doing what is the right thing to do, but the easy thing to do. If this argument is wrong, then how do we explain the plight of our current system?

If we invest our resources intelligently and nurture a group (or generation) of teachers who are highly motivated, well trained, aspire for excellence, who can can keep their heads on their shoulders, and can think of their feet, we can create vibrant learning environments where students are excited about learning and are greatly involved/engaged with their learning experiences.

Good teachers are necessary, but not sufficient. We need the administrators and management to support and assist these good teachers in their pursuits. The administrator and management should enable the teachers to thrive in their professional practice. At least, they should not create hurdles and challenges that will let mediocrity rise.

The problems are obvious and solutions are not going to manifest instantaneously. It will take a certain amount of humility to accept our ground realities, a certain level of clarity to not get swayed away by the trends of the day, a certain measure of zeal and enthusiasm to innovate and troubleshoot, and a certain understanding of the enormous potential we all hold towards achieving excellence, in order to solve our current problems and continue to be creative in our thoughts and actions.

Technologies come and go. They are mere tools to assist human ingenuity and creativity.


#10

It is nice to see active discussion in these columns about the pros and cons of ‘old’ vs ‘new’ modes of teaching. I should clarify that I do not say that the semester system or online learning per se are bad. My major concern is about the way the semester system has been applied in the country and the over-emphasis on the so-called ‘smart’ classrooms and online learning. The annual as well as semester systems can be good or bad, depending upon the teachers and the system of their application. ‘Smart’ classes and online learning should only be supplement to, rather than replacement of, a conventional classroom. Of course, we should also not forget that the current social milieu where the ‘package’ received by a student after getting the degree seems to have greater value in the eyes of parents, the incumbent and the society. Such over-arching commercial perspective adds to the ‘killing’ of enquiry-driven learning.