Online education, not a threat but a boon for higher education - IndiaBioscience

The increasing demand for virtual learning is making information and communication technologies (ICTs) an integral aspect of higher education. In this article, Aparna Dixit, an educator at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Center for Biomedical Research, University of Delhi, shares her views on some of these technologies and how they can be used to enhance the learning experience of students.

Online education and on-demand education are the need of the hour and the future of higher education. E‑teaching is a technology-based virtual pedagogy with a potent role in transforming higher education. A very famous quote of Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist who discussed the digital and the communication revolution and their effects on cultures worldwide, is now universally accepted in the field of education- ​“The literate of the 21st Century will not be those who can read and write but those who can learn, unlearn and relearn.” Teachers need to unlearn the old teaching pedagogy and relearn the more creative digital teaching method for the holistic development of our students to make them better citizens.

Online teaching is unbiased and fits with the time and pace of all the students. Not only in the current COVID-19 pandemic scenario but for the betterment of higher education, more hands-on teachers’ training programs on information and communication technology (ICT) and Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) are required. Equally important is the participation of teachers in such programs.

Here, I am sharing my views on the role of ICT and MOOCS in transforming higher education with specific emphasis on the modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment (MOODLE) platform.

Need for Online Education and Govt. of India Initiatives

ICT competency is important for both teachers and students for better communication, learning, and assessment processes. In the current scenario as well as in the future, the process of teaching needs to be ​“blended” with video lectures and online study materials to make it more interactive for the students.

ICT competency can help in including blended and flipped learning methods in both online and offline classrooms. Blended learning can be both offline and online with additional study materials complementing the regular classroom teaching. It can help in achieving face-to-face classroom interactions based on available or self-generated online materials.

In the flipped learning pedagogical approach, the students can access the online educational resources beforehand, transforming the classroom learning into a more dynamic, creative, and interactive environment. ICT competency will also improve the ability to search open educational resources (OERs) (freely available to the public, or under Creative Commons licence) like good videos, good audio, images, etc., and bring these e‑contents to the classroom. This will also encourage the teacher to become an educator as well as a counsellor.

To accomplish this, various Government institutes in India, with funding from MHRD, have initiated several digital programs. Such initiatives include the National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT) by IIT Bombay, the National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) by seven IITs (Bombay, Delhi, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras, Guwahati, and Roorkee) and IISc, Bangalore, ePathshala by NCERT, Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM)- a (MOOC) platform, Swayam Prabha (a group of 32DTH channels devoted to telecasting of high-quality educational programs 24X7 basis using the GSAT-15 satellite) , National digital library of India (developed by IIT Kharagpur), National Academic Depository and Spoken Tutorial (developed at IIT Bombay).

MOOCs are very structured courses providing high-quality education, open for all: anytime, anyone, anywhere, with mass enrollment and open access using the IT system. MOOCs offered across the world consist of platforms that are free as open-source or paid closed platforms. The Indian government is promoting the use of freely available open-source MOOCs platforms. Anyone can learn free of cost without registration, but to get a certificate the student needs to be registered under the course. A large number of MOOC platforms exist across the world. Some of the most popular MOOC platforms are edX, Coursera, Khan Academy, Udemy, Canvas, FutureLearn, Udacity, The Open University and our indigenous digital initiative SWAYAM. However Moodle is one of the best MOOC platforms for blended learning.

MOODLE — A Perfect MOOC platform for Online Teaching for Higher Education

Moodle is an open-source and community-driven platform with over 150,000 implementations around the world, and over 200 million learners using it (as of 15th June, 2020) . Moodle is the preferred platform for our technologically skillful post-graduate students due to its feature set, flexibility, intuitive and supportive environment, and its customisable nature. It has few limitations and endless possibilities. It is equally good for the slow and fast learners as they can learn at their own time and pace. Utilizing solutions such as virtual classrooms, gamification, and other methods can help create more dynamic courses and positively impact the engagement and overall success of your learners.

Moodle has several plug-ins and modules to increase student’s engagement and success in higher education.

Instant messaging and message alerts provide faster and efficient ways to get in touch with peers and teachers. Moodle portal of the teacher can be used for enrolling students, make attendance lists, create courses, deliver learning materials, give quizzes, send feedback, and much more.

Moodle blog is one of the activity modules that can be used for discussions anytime. A post along with commenting parameters can be set up by the teacher, which allows the students to comment at their own time within the set limit. Besides, Moodle encourages collaborative teamwork through discussions, forums, and messaging, allowing students to work together, share ideas, and ask/​answer questions, which ultimately fine-tunes their work with the help of their peers. On the other hand, the lesson module in Moodle provides a method of adaptive and independent learning wherein the presentation as well as the questions can be customized for each student.

In Moodle, the learning materials and supplementary resources in the form of OERs, an essential component of higher education, can easily be uploaded and shared to complete the coursework and assignments, which can be accessed by the students as and when allowed by the teachers. Every student consistently receives access to all types of content and can also give feedback using comprehensive tools in Moodle. Further, the assignment can be submitted by the students and graded at any designated time by the teacher based on the pre-established criteria, whenever it is convenient and suits their busy schedules.

Moodle accommodates flexible learning as it is compatible with most devices, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The most important advantage of Moodle in higher education is that it can be integrated with existing systems and the institution can effectively keep all administrative and instructional activities more streamlined and organized.

On-demand education is the future of education. A student from any institution should have the opportunity to get registered for an online course from any other University, and also get credit for it. This will enable the students to develop themselves without the need for extra financial burden of coaching centers. A teacher can never be replaced. So rather than considering it as a threat, Universities need to be transformed to provide an online collaborative education system to empower educators to raise the standards of higher education in India.

MOOCs are an efficient mode of higher education providing creative learning, free education, increased participation, and open access for anyone, anytime. Besides, it is also believed that with the decreased cost of IT services, MOOCs will positively affect our economy by reducing the costs of teaching. It is quite possible that, in the future, faculties are also assessed and rated based on the student’s feedback using any MOOCs platform. Thus, in a democratic and developing country like India, MOOCs would certainly pave the way forward for higher education.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://indiabioscience.org/columns/education/online-education-not-a-threat-but-a-boon-for-higher-education
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I would like to respectfully disagree to the crux of this piece, and my reasons are listed below.

I would like to quote from the article, “Online teaching is unbiased and fits with the time and pace of all the students.”

  1. Online teaching is heavily biased towards those who have access to modern technological devices and high speed internet. There are reports of student suicides from different parts of the country where those who are feeling alienated because of the lack of access to these resources, due to the social and economic situation at home, are taking drastic steps. To ignore this ground reality also suggests that it is okay to associate education with privilege, that education is not a fundamental right.
  2. Even those students who have the necessary resources, are actually feeling extremely detached from the courses in spite of the availability of time and pace. This is resulting in high absentee rate, minimal engagement, forceful participation, etc.

This article suggests that classroom education can be replaced by online education. It ignores the values of learning by being, from face-to-face discussions, questioning, and participating. Online, teachers and students alike are finding it difficult to maintain the level of attention to the other humans in the process, leading to everyone feeling disengaged after a certain time. No amount of training can replace this human aspect.

There are students who actually feel encouraged to continue education because classrooms offer a different world from their daily lives, increase their confidence by letting them open up, etc. Online education is a severe threat to such encouraging practises that can only come out of classroom education.

Let’s talk about assessment. Whereas open-book exams are great, there are subject areas in which open-book exams are simply not possible. Moreover, a student’s in person attentiveness needs to be tested. Online assessment simply cannot replace the classic mode of assessment.

This article rightfully promotes the availability of resources as a positive of online education. However, it also suggests that the near 24X7 connectivity of several people over different platforms actually benefits everyone, which is not the case. A great part of education is about disengagement and assimilation, what we used to call “studying”. The fact that online education makes one feel like they are missing out on something at every moment, is severely harmful for students and creates negative competition amongst peers who could help each other learn and grow.

Acknowledging the fact that cross-platform education and availability of resources can make the educational sphere more equitable, it also needs to be mentioned that the fruits will be borne by the privileged, whether in high school or higher education. Moreover, online resources can never replace some core practises of classroom education, thus can at best remaining ancillary in its role to traditional education. Its emergence as the only form of education is indeed a threat to the idea of education-for-all.

Online teaching is a tool for betterment of higher education. I have clearly mentioned that teachers can never be replaced. ICT provides blended and flipped learning along with class room teaching for courses or students who are able to attend classes.But for the learners or students who are not able to attend the classes for any reason it will be a boon to them. MOOCS provide study materials as well as discussion platform. The students can discuss not only with the teachers but also with the students who are enrolled for the same course. Currently the students tend to discuss through email or WhatsApp which can be missed sometimes. Through MOOCS platform a student can learn and discuss anytime, anywhere. Besides I am teaching PG students and the attendance in any class be it mine or any other teacher it is never 100%. The student who will miss the class or are slow learners can go through the video lectures by the same teacher in virtual classroom. Besides in the current scenario it is the only way to continue teaching, discussions, assessment and grading of the students.

“Online teaching is a tool for betterment of higher education.”
–– As much as I agree with the intention of this statement, it actually ignores the ground reality I have mentioned before: a large fraction of Indian students stuck at home do not have the modern technological support or as a matter of fact domestic support, to carry on online education.
I cite some news below. Warning: Trigger-able content ahead.

  1. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/west-bengal-bally-no-smartphone-for-online-classes-may-have-pushed-bengal-student-to-death-2249500
  2. https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/news/india/keralas-experiment-with-virtual-classes-upset-over-not-having-smartphone-class-10-girl-commits-suicide/articleshow/76151031.cms

There are more examples from different parts of the country.
And this reality is similar, if not this extreme, for “higher” education. I went to a residential college where students used to come from the deepest interiors of my state, places which remain without electricity for a fortnight after a cyclone.

It is high time we look beyond intentions, and look at the reality.

The rest of my earlier argument stands because of the last sentence in it.

Regards.

Whenever there is a change, it will have its pros and cons. Also people find it difficult to accept. I again insist that it can never replace classroom teaching. Rather providing addition platform to it. We have seen the advantage of online teaching during the covid pandemic. We could successfully complete our course, assessment, also presentations by students. We are using power point for lectures and also use chalk and board in the class. Being a human physiology teacher I can assure you that Video lectures are more comprehensive. Also Students are more connected since they can discuss with me anytime. I do believe that it is difficult for people in remote areas to get connected . For that we need bettter connectivity and Our govt is working on it. Distance education concept is not new but now it is replaced by virtual classroom with better study materials snd connectivity with teachers.

As I have said before, there is no objection to the intention, it is a welcome step. But the piece actually makes some very objectionable statements (“Online teaching is unbiased and fits with the time and pace of all the students.” ; “MOOCs would certainly pave the way forward for higher education.”) which I thought of publicly noting with valid reasons cited in the two above comments. This piece completely shoves these issues under the rug, because “our government is working on it.” I find this logic in absolute disagreement of the reality (examples above), given the extreme marginalisation that the pandemic has caused to socioeconomically unprivileged students. To think that this is my personal issue (“Also people find it difficult to accept.”) is again failing to acknowledge this reality –– I do not speak for myself, but thousands of students feeling marginalised and demotivated because of the situation. The title of the piece is grave injustice, and I condemn it in no uncertain terms.

Thank you for taking the criticism openly.