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May 09, 2020 Saturday 04:12:27 PM IST

Towards Blended, Hybrid Learning

Rajagiri Round Table

With the Covid-19 pandemic and the several weeks of lockdown, the education sector suddenly realised the worth of whatever investments made in Information & Communications Technology (ICT) . The need to continue studies for children and creatively engage them was the prime reason to unleash the power of internet, tablets, mobile phones and social media. Education is likely to be more technology driven and likely to be delivered on online platforms. But are the schools and colleges having the requisite infrastructure and resources to deliver online learning to their students? How do the teachers and parents accompany children in a technology-driven mode? What are the pros and cons in over-reliance on digital platforms for learning? The 58th Rajagiri Round Table Conference International Online put forth these ideas and issues for discussion in social media and online platforms for the first time, again necessitated by the pandemic lock down. There was a consensus view that digital technologies are going to be utilised in various forms in education. Such changes were required to ensure continuity of learning.

Dr D Mavoothu, Director of School of Management Studies, CUSAT pointed out that online teaching, learning and evaluation are going to be a new normal in the near future. The new age virtual learning will be cheaper than the legacy methods.

Dr-Ing. Varghese Panthalookaran, Professor at Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology (RSET) said ICT would initiate a radical paradigm shift in the conduct of education. “This hilarious learning experience is going to stay and will become the backbone of education in post-covid-19 times.”



ENABLING TECHNOLOGIES

Suma Paul, a CBSE ICT Award Winner, looks forward to an era of blended learning where classroom lessons are

integrated with technology tools. One is the asynchronous mode with prerecorded instructions using Canvas LMS, Blackboard, LMS etc. And the other is the real time learning using platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco Webex. She believes that digital tools will augment not substitute classroom learning. The educators all

across the world will think about moving the content online, as precious classroom time can be utilized for interactive learning. In the future, every administrator, educator and stakeholder will understand that online education will be recognized as core to every school’s plan for institutional resilience and academic continuity. This post-pandemic understanding will change how schools plan for, manage and fund online education. Universities and colleges will become self-reliant in having their own resources for developing and running online programs. Kerala government has already come up ASAP, Additional Skill Acquisition Programme (ASAP), in its bid to combat the impact of COVID-19 crisis on regular academics of students. It is a platform for the undergraduate/post-graduate (UG/PG) students to continue their education and attend sessions from expert faculty. One thing is certain - online courses and new user friendly platforms will be developed by different boards with the ability to track student actions. And part of the curricula will go online in the future.


Dr Job Kuruvila, academician, epistemologist was worried about the quality of online learning materials

used by a few engineering and dental colleges of Kochi. They have used power point presentations which is a dangerous practice. PPTs are used as a supporting learning tool and it cannot replace an invisible mute Teacher. Chalk and talk (with board), using models and exchanging stimulating questions can enrich such classes, but never replace it.

 

LACK OF SOCIAL INTERACTIONS


A new system will not be entirely welcomed by all nor will it be perfect.

Dr PR Poduval, Former Director of School of Management Studies, CUSAT said that online learning has several disadvantages as it tends to become mechanical and knowledge oriented. “Students’ cognitive competence in terms of

informational knowledge, conceptual knowledge and step by step procedural knowledge can be developed in learning under social distancing. This kind of system already exists under distance learning or private registration for degree examinations. Modern technology may help in introducing some kind of direct video communication with the teachers and co-students. But, still the advantage of live interaction will be missing. Teachers are no longer models to the students under such conditions,” Dr Poduval said.

Dr Elsie Oommen, Consultant Psychiatrist at Medical Trust Hospital, Kochi said that in online systems teachers will have less control over their students and hence the discipline and punctuality that are required in the class room are lost. This will make the students less responsible and less attentive and the assignments or tests given in virtual classrooms may be manipulated by them and sometimes by parents themselves and they may help the children to complete the task. This will ultimately lead to the children being dishonest too. Growing children have high levels of energy within themselves which has to be let out as a biological requirement. Virtual class rooms deny playground which is very much important for physical as well as mental growth. Games and plays reduce the bottling up of stress in children and help them to stay healthy. Man is a social animal and his brain requires real and lively interactions and not a virtual one. The children require physical interaction with their friends, teachers, and authorities for their mental wellbeing. Loneliness itself can cause many emotional problems in children which can later develop into temperamental and personality disorders.


 Dr Job Kuruvila was of the view that a good teacher never can be replaced with a network of computer aided teaching. The interaction with the students is of great importance to meaningful learning. The temptations to replace the teacher with a pre-programmed pedagogy should be deadly for us where most of the students have little communication skills in English. It may help teachers who want to avoid the class room challenges to ensure that real learning takes place.

 INCLUSIVE LEARNING

Philip Daniel, corporate trainer, was of the view that the difference in the system of education in the Before Corona(BC) world and After Corona(AC) world will largely depend on the actual time taken for the world to recover fully from the pandemic. If the world recovers with 6 to 8 months, then we will go back to the old teacher and class room system. However, if the recovery period extends beyond one to two years, then there will be full structural changes in the education system. Online learning and self-learning with overall guidance from the educational institutions will be the norm. Newer technology and 5G will provide more possibilities to make online education more effective. The wide use of smartphones and the internet even in rural areas will help in this transition. For examinations however, online evaluation of the students would be challenge as it will be difficult to verify clearly if the candidate or someone else is taking the online examination.

 


Thomas George, corporate trainer, said there might be resistance to change by the establishments but we cannot go back to old way. And online learning is here to stay, it is going to be friendlier, cheaper and easier to access. In online learning fewer number of teachers can cater to a wide audience. Concern about inclusiveness of online learning, affordability for the less privileged and a possible digital divide were discussed by Thomas George and Dr Mavoothu.

And Thomas George added, “It’s exciting times ahead with many possibilities and uncertain outcomes. But

looking foward, for sure it’s going to be the E-Way or the Highway to oblivion.” A connected point to be made here is that we have to get the young at all levels involved in finding ‘sustainable’ solutions for the multiple reasons that we have arrived at this tremendous, unprecedented standstill stage.

THE FUTURE


Covid-19, has become a catalyst for educational institutions worldwide to search for innovative solutions in a relatively short period of time, according to Soniya Nikhil, Psychologist. The slow pace of change in the academic institutions globally, is lamentable, with our centuries old, lecture-based approaches to teaching, entrenched institutional biases and outmoded classrooms. Given the digital divide new shifts in educational approaches could widen equality gaps. “In this everchanging global environment, young people require resilience, and adaptability. Skills that are proving to be essential to navigate effectively through this pandemic. Creativity, communication and collaboration, alongside empathy, emotional intelligence and being able to work across demographic limits of differences to harness the power of the collective through effective team work is needed,” Soniya said.

 Dr-Ing. Varghese Panthalookarn said only the most creative campuses will survive the onslaught of ICT. Of course, there will be efforts from the establishment to resist the shift and save the existing ways, with no avail. We are going to witness the most radical transformation in the education in India too, comparable to the former shift from the exclusive Gurukulas to the radically inclusive Pallikkutams of the Buddhists. It will further transcend all remaining restrictions on quality education, making it radically available, affordable, accessible and adaptable for all students. A run-away situation!!”

 


Recommendations:

Make classrooms interactive and online learning for content delivery.

Make online learning inclusive and affordable to all sections of society.

No effort should be made to create a pre-programmed pedagogy to replace the teacher.


Power point presentations should be used as supportive learning tool only.

Children should not be confined to virtual learning and weaken social skills.

Online learning should be optimised so that children don’t develop emotional problems or personality disorders.


Parents and teachers should ensure sufficient play time and exposure to nature for children.

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