One of the most formidable and daunting challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has posed to our higher education is the challenge of adopting innovations and making quick transition towards teaching and learning in a hybrid or blended mode. We have to re-imagine and restructure our higher education by seizing the moment to be creative, innovative, enterprising and proactive while adapting changes for a post-pandemic world. According to recent studies in neurosciences, the way we learn does not always match up with the way we are taught. Student-centric classrooms will increase the demand for new technology. This becomes even more arduous as a result of the fact that the contours and criterion of the post-pandemic world remain unpredictable and unknown to us. Only thing that can be said with certainty is that many aspects including mode and methods of teaching used in our pre-pandemic world may considerably change in the post-pandemic world as a result of the digital transformation and other disruptive changes brought about by the pandemic. To quote Clayton, “Educators, like the rest of us tend to resist major change. But this shift in the learning platform, if managed correctly-which means disruptively-is not a threat. It is an opportunity.” Online teaching and learning as well as working remotely from home are likely to continue partially and intermittently for some time as long as virus keeps circulating in the community. Therefore, it is high time that our educational institutions reassess their future needs, re-evaluate educational systems and strategize in anticipation of future challenges to higher education posed by the pandemic. Further this is the most opportune time to adopt and implement creative and innovative teaching pedagogies to make teaching and learning effective, enjoyable and productive both during and after the pandemic that may include problem-based learning, team-based, project-based, activity-based, experiential learning, inquiry and competency-based learning approaches. However, in this changing paradigm, as stated by Peter F Drucker. “Prediction of technological change-in the strict meaning of the term-would require ability to know both what changes could be expected and when they would occur,”
Make teaching and learning enjoyable
Traditional, one way, didactic, monologues, passive mode of teaching needs to be replaced by interactive, participative, dialogic mode of discussions in which learners have full freedom to express their views, ask questions, suggest ideas and solutions, no matter how vague they might sound at the very outset. There has to be some room for healthy wit and humour and the students should find their online classrooms as vivacious hangouts rather than authoritarian and austere territories belonging predominantly to teachers. Online classes must evoke a sense of belonging, a feeling of comfort and pleasure among the students rather than a sense of fear and trepidation. Curricular content shared with students must evoke inquisitiveness, foster creativity and enhance their analytical skills. It must invigorate their logical and reasoning abilities and generate a whole lot of questions in order to ensure long-term knowledge retention. Ample time must be devoted to activities like music and fine arts, physical and mental health education, celebrations and extra-curricular activities in order to enhance student engagement and enthusiasm and thereby address all the three domains of learning viz., cognitive (knowledge-based), affective (emotion-based) and psychomotor (action-based) domains, as defined under Bloom’s Taxonomy. There is need to train our teachers well in all domains of Bloom’s Taxonomy apart from imparting orientation sessions in philosophy and psychology of education, teaching technology and teaching pedagogies. In the words of Clayton, “as the monolithic system of instruction shifts to a classroom powered by student-centric technology, teacher’s roles will gradually shift over time too.”
Flipping the classroom
Instead of teacher delivering the whole lecture himself without any break and inviting questions from the students towards the end, it is always desirable that the students be told to study a particular topic ahead of the class and only questions, discussions, debate, problem-solving, group tasks and guided practice through case studies related to the topic be allowed during the class. This will not only ensure full participation of students but hone their cognitive abilities, creative thinking and leadership skills too. More emphasis needs to be laid upon practical demonstrations and role plays. In classes with large number of students, multiple groups or teams can be formed, assigned tasks and allowed to present their findings and inferences within a stipulated time frame. Team and project based experiential learning needs to be accorded sufficient priority for enhancing competency and interpersonal skills among students. Further it will help students learn how to work, interact and collaborate in a team. Panel discussions, brainstorming sessions and role plays could also be a good addition to make learning more exhilarating.YouTube videos and animations from authentic sources can also serve as a useful and readymade resource for content delivery in our flipped classrooms.
Skill and employability enhancement through blended mode
World Economic Forum has identified top ten skills required for employability in its "Future of Jobs and Skills" report of 2016, as complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, human resource management, coordination, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility. Our teaching pedagogies need to inculcate these very skills among our students for enabling them to thrive in a post-pandemic world where our graduates are bound to face a constrained labour market due to the poorly performing economies that have been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic and are likely to reverberate even long after the pandemic is contained. Our hybrid or blended mode educational strategies have to be aligned with our socio-economic circumstances in which fault lines of social inequity and disparity have been sharpened as a result of the digital migration. Blending teaching and learning methods through multiple delivery modes will not only improve learning outcomes but at the same time harness creativity and innovation. Thus, the pandemic can not only serve as a springboard for restructuring our higher education but also spur a strengthening of collaboration between universities, state, business and industry, society and communities. Once we revert back to our physical classrooms after the pandemic, we would be immensely enriched by our experiences gained through online teaching and the realization that digital tools are complements rather than substitutes for the intimacy and immediacy of face-to-face learning and therefore significant benefits could be yielded from the strategy of layering both asynchronous (Canvas, Blackboard) and synchronous (Zoom, Google Meet) platforms of teaching and learning into face-to-face exchanges onto a classroom situation.
Fostering globalization and internationalization of education
In the post-pandemic world, online education in a blended mode has to be viewed as pivotal to every university's strategy for institutional resilience, academic continuity and cross-campus governance. Institutions that were not offering online courses prior to the pandemic would be in a position to drastically increase their student enrolment in the post-pandemic era by offering courses in a blended mode with tremendous amount of flexibility and choice. This will help them in retaining huge capital that was otherwise draining out as a result of their limited infrastructure and annual intake of students. Furthermore, the universities will be able to centralize and augment their campus instructional design and delivery capabilities. Globalization and internationalization of higher education will also receive impetus through online education in the post-pandemic world that was otherwise seriously jeopardized by the COVID crisis. Now student and teacher exchange programmes will receive a flip through online modes and more and more MOUs could be signed in future between trans-national universities in several areas of mutual interest. Already a whole lot of renowned and reputed international universities are offering their courses online enabling international students to avail these opportunities and pursue programmes while sitting at home. It is high time for our universities too to go international and offer their most popular courses to international students in the online mode. This will not only earn them huge revenue but enhance their international standing too.
We need to drastically strengthen our online teaching platforms, instructional designs and delivery modes for greater acceptability, productivity, effectiveness and affordability of our academic programmes both within and outside J&K. Our online teaching platforms need to be made vibrant, dynamic and responsive to the needs and demands of students besides making them teacher-friendly as well as capable of conducting fool-proof and credible online evaluation of students. Subsequently, we need to update our curricula in consonance with our blended mode education strategies giving enough space to innovative and creative teaching pedagogies discussed above. We need to adopt and implement these innovative pedagogies in a graded fashion so as to increase their suitability, sustainability, relevance, viability and acceptability and fine tune them in sync with our local requirements. This type of restructuring of our higher education will make us future ready to face the challenges of a post-pandemic world. Lastly, a renewed understanding of teaching and learning is direly needed.
(Author is Dean Academic Affairs, University of Kashmir)