The education sector has undergone massive changes in recent years. The urgent need for democratisation of education and skills, and the incredible challenges faced the world over due to the Covid-19 pandemic have been some motivators for institutions to make big shifts.
In recent times, the advent of efficient technology for virtual classrooms has been instrumental in driving changes in pedagogy, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, when they were the only available option, and institutions scampered to move enmasse to online learning.
Raghunathan Rengaswamy, Dean for Global Engagement, and a faculty member in the Department of Chemical Engineering at IIT Madras, shared why balancing tradition and technology in the future of education is important.
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON EDUCATION
It is time to relook at the future of education in this age of ever-expanding virtual learning. Some questions that arise are: Is virtual learning as effective as physical classroom learning? Does virtual learning democratise access to education and facilitate global collaborative learning? What shifts are needed among teachers and students to ensure the effectiveness of learning in the era of virtual classrooms?
This was recently highlighted by a student member in a panel I was part of, at a summit in University of Sydney, Australia, where the student made a passionate shout-out to the holistic learning that she derives from physical classroom learning.
EFFICACY OF VIRTUAL LEARNING
Learning is a multi-faceted and complicated process, and long-term longitudinal studies are required to carefully measure the efficacy of online learning, and identify lacuna. Apart from the technical knowledge imparted, there are several other facets of learning, such as peer-to-peer learning, social learning, and personal development in a classroom, which are likely to be poorly served in a virtual learning environment.
DEMOCRATISATION OF EDUCATION
Of course, virtual learning democratises education and brings it to a large cross-section of the population. A surfeit of learning materials is available on the web on every conceivable topic and online classrooms could potentially allow access to the best classes taught by the best professors, to students worldwide.
More importantly, access to quality internet and quiet spaces in crowded households are a real problem in much of the underdeveloped and developing world.
THE TEACHER’S PERSPECTIVE
While the various paradigms explored for virtual classrooms focus on the effectiveness of the learning process and the student experience, one should also consider the teacher’s experience.
The interactive nature of teaching that is possible in a physical classroom is difficult to envisage online, and making the shift to online teaching requires considerable additional work (and mindset shifts) from teachers.
HYBRID CLASSROOMS AS A SOLUTION
Hybrid classrooms, which incorporate the best of physical and online classrooms, can lead to different models for collaborative teaching, and mitigate some of these challenges.
For example, at IIT Madras, we have introduced a joint master’s programme between Kathmandu University and IIT Madras, where the students are enrolled in both universities at the same time and earn credits from physical and hybrid classes, in the same semester.
The flexibility that this allows the students and the faculty is considerable, and this can be leveraged to develop extremely interesting academic programs, exploring complementary expertise to be harnessed in putting together academic programmes that are future-looking.
BALANCING THE PROS AND CONS
Much like everything else, virtual learning is a double-edged sword. While the opportunities that this opens up are enormous, it is important that educators take a balanced approach to understanding the effectiveness of the virtual teaching-learning process and be cognisant of aspects related to inclusion as we forge ahead.