In the wake of the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, many colleges and universities worldwide have moved their teaching online. This simply means that students are still provided with the required number of class hours as per their course curriculum but without face-to-face contact with teachers.
Like in many parts of the world, in India too many colleges and universities have switched on the online mode of teaching. And, we at Asian Business School (ABS), Noida have also shifted our PGDM classes online by way of video lectures amid this coronavirus threat.
This global shift to online learning follows the example set by universities in China, where the coronavirus outbreak first began. Such rapid global adoption of online education is quite surprising.
If carefully implemented, online learning can make university and college level education more accessible, affordable, interactive and student-centered. However, the way that it is being presented as a simple and practical solution, capable of replacing face-to-face teaching for a significant period, is slightly misleading.
Time to prepare
As a matter of fact, online education is a complex endeavour. Therefore, it is essential to set realistic understandings and expectations of how it can support students affected by coronavirus measures. This is especially the case for universities and colleges that disregarded online education before the coronavirus outbreak.
As things are, both academics and students may lack the training needed for quality online learning. Typically, developing online courses involves a team of experts including academics, instructional designers, programmers and illustrators. The team will collectively follow systematic design processes. However, chances are that in this quick transition, academics who have never taught online will be offering courses that have not been devised in this way.
Confronting this extraordinary challenge, most academics will record their lectures using a webcam and the same slides from previous face-to-face teaching. A few will choose to do live teaching using telecommunication tools, delivering the same lectures online at normal class hours. But, such simple “onlinification” of face-to-face lectures will not result in positive experiences for academics or students.
For those several students who will be using smartphones, they will discover that there are significant differences between presenting slides on projection screens in lecture theatres and on small handheld screens. In fact, the font size and page ratio of the slides will need to be carefully checked and revised to improve their readability. If course materials such as key texts are not properly digitized, students’ learning can be completely disrupted.
One more issue is retaining student interest. It is always a challenge for academics to maintain students’ attention in face-to-face classes. A number of studies suggest that it is even harder with distance students, as demonstrated by higher drop-out rates in online than face-to-face courses. True, useful online teaching strategies exist, but to novice online teachers burdened with quickly recording online lectures, scouring existing research for clues may seem unrealistic.
To quote an academic in Hong Kong about his experiences with online classes during the coronavirus outbreak: “In the first week, (he) got around 50% attendance, which was not bad at all. However, things got worse, and last week, (he) got one student attending the class, which was frustrating.”
On a minimum, each student must have access to high-speed internet from where they are isolated. For those students who are not adequately equipped with basic technological tools and skills, watching poor quality pre-recorded or live online lecture videos will be frustrating.
Again, it is impossible to know each student’s living, learning or health conditions during this crisis. Taking into account that many students may be isolated socially and physically and feeling anxious, the question is how ready will they be to learn online? It would do well to remember here that even under normal circumstances, distance students experience feelings of isolation caused by a lack of face-to-face interaction and social experience. And, this has been a problem since the inception of online education back in the 1990s!
Looking at the unprecedented spread of the outbreak, this sudden global shift to online learning is not going to stop in a week or two. Universities and colleges will need to carefully consider how to assess and evaluate student learning outcomes vis-à-vis a changed pedagogy, which will open a whole new set of challenges. Dissatisfied students who find online learning inferior to face-to-face lectures may take action against their universities and colleges. Some students affected by the switch to online learning as a result of coronavirus measures may even request a refund of their tuition payment.
Indeed, the perceived ease and usefulness of online education is largely influenced by the users’ first experiences. This has a telling impact on its actual adoption. The idea that online education is being rapidly implemented at the expense of quality is something to worry about, as it may result in online education being discarded after the coronavirus outbreak ends. Therefore, the act of going online has to be carefully planned, and faculty members at the front line of this movement need more support than a simple operation notice justified by an emergency declaration.
Despite the above discussed challenges, we at Asian Business School (ABS), Noida have also shifted our PGDM programme classes online amid this coronavirus threat. Although we fully realize that it will not be easy, but we are determined to meet the challenges and make this learning method truly engaging, interesting and successful for both the students and the faculty.