We are into week 11 of the lockdown and as educators, we have seen days which we never imagined in the wildest of our dreams. The entire experience of education changed overnight. Educators became learners and students were suddenly given those very gadgets (read smartphones and laptops) for which they were earlier cajoled for constant usage. Online education suddenly became the new normal. Many of the faculty adapted very quickly to the situation and got their act together to conduct classes from their homes. The students on the other hand, geared themselves to studying in the comfort zones of their homes. Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp, WebEx, Skype, Google Meet, etc – all possible platforms were explored, and a new classroom was created.
IILM University also swiftly adopted technology to ensure that the learning did not stop, irrespective of the lockdown. In fact, IILM went a step further to ensure that almost all the scheduled activities other than teaching were also conducted online, viz mentoring, dissertation guidance, Club activities and placement preparation workshops for the students. The Placement Cell at IILM University leveraged their strong industry connect to get virtual summer internships for their undergraduate and postgraduate students. Faculty mentors at IILM have been continuously guiding and hand-holding these interning students to keep up their motivation levels while working for home.
The Way Forward
As the pandemic situation gets critical, experts around the world are deliberating on the way forward for higher education, anticipating online education to assume greater significance in the coming years. Academicians are exploring the options of the flipped classroom and blended learning to offer an effective learning environment for the students. The author discusses here the case of these two trending topics which are likely to show us the direction, as we prepare ourselves for the forthcoming semesters to welcome the existing and new batches of students.
The Flipped Classroom
Let us take the case of a flipped classroom first. Based on my experience and having heard several online discussions, I feel that the success of the implementation of the flipped classroom lies not only in the orientation of the faculty but also on the ownership of the student in his learning. Until now we as faculty majorly adopted a passive learning approach which was faculty-centric in a lecture mode with the objective of content dissemination. What is required is an active learning approach that is student-centric and works on a collaborative model with the objective of content creation. The flip of the traditional classroom works on this principle. An element of experiential learning is brought in along with academic learning. A robust LMS makes it possible to create a flipped classroom. The conceptual learning is done by the students through the LMS and in the class they are given pedagogical tools to apply that learning – whether it is through a project or a case or a simulation.
This sounds exciting, but how many of our students would seriously come prepared for the class and contribute to the classroom discussion? Given the fact that most of them look forward to an exhilarating experience in college and campus life, academics is the last thing on their mind. Forget students, will we able to orient and motivate our faculty to create a flipped classroom? Moreover, the perception of undergraduate students towards education is different in comparison to post-graduate students. Also, there is a huge effort that is required on part of the faculty for creating online content for the LMS. And last but not the least, LMS comes at an enormous cost. Will institutions be able to afford this massive investment at a time when student recruitments look bleak? Will we be able to restructure our infrastructure for creating this learning environment?
I feel that the answers to these questions will tell us whether we should head in the direction towards flipped classrooms or not.
Blended learning according to me is a healthy mix of the traditional classroom and online teaching. Technology cannot replace educators – it is an undisputed fact because interaction with the students is a must for learning to be effective. And for this, student engagement in class is particularly important. In fact, for blended learning to be successful, the end objective should be participative learning. Given the low levels of the attention span of our students, it would certainly be a Herculean task in online teaching.
Blended learning is possible if we change some of our existing teaching practices. A differential pedagogy is the need of the hour. An increased use of simulation, gamification, role plays, and case studies in the online classroom setting are foreseen. Faculty preparedness with respect to the design of the course, course learning outcomes, course content, and pre-class groundwork will be of utmost importance. The focus would be on curated content and overload of reading material would become passé. Increased usage of audio and multimedia material by the faculty in the new age online classroom is likely to make the sessions interesting for the students. Faculty would have to design the communication plan for each course and establish certain norms for their class. Class time management would be of great significance. The duration of the classes will also have to carefully deliberated. The planning of the timetables and the schedules will have to be done in such a way that students are excited to attend their classes, rather than feeling compelled.
Whether the future lies in the flipped classroom or blended learning, I believe that facilitators are required to be academically, physically and mentally prepared for their classes going forward. The old teaching practices will have to be done away with. In fact, faculty preparation for each class would decide how effective their session would be. And it is not just about digital literacy, but also the online behaviour while conducting the classes in the new-age classroom. Their mannerisms, their involvement and conduct would decide if students attending are mentally present or only logged in to show their online presence in the class.
Rote learning and the traditional learning approach need to be replaced with a student-centric learning approach while making best use of technology. A hybrid model of teaching is the need of the hour. A meticulous planning is required to ensure that students enjoy their online learning journey rather than feel disinterested. The time has come to innovate the learning pedagogy and create an ocean of new knowledge. It is time to rethink, plan, and prepare.