The debate on whether digital learning platforms can replace face-to-face classroom teaching and learning process will continue as long as pandemic keeps us haunting time and again.
The technological advancement demands digital revolution but the process should be pragmatic and in accordance to the demand keeping in mind the necessity on the ground.
Any kind of digital transformation will have to satisfy the nuances of wide rural and urban divide. This cannot become possible unless and until there is simultaneous development in rural and urban areas in all sectors including education.
As of now, most of the sectors have opened up to the fullest extent possible and having business as usual with Covid guidelines. It is only the educational sector which is yet to come in full swing as most of the campuses are still closed. Some students groups are demanding to open up campuses in the same manner like all other sectors.
As opening of the campuses is on the least priority of the government, students are apprehensive that the government is trying to avoid opening campuses because they have become dissenting voice and have filled the vacuum which has been created in the absence of opposition force in the country. Under such circumstances, the students are apprehensive that the government may try to replace human interface in the classrooms with digital learning platforms in due course of time. But will that be a pragmatic option is the big question?
According to Prof. M. Aslam, former Vice Chancellor of IGNOU who has also served as consultant/Expert to: FAO and UNDP of the United Nations; Commonwealth of learning and others, ”I can say with full confidence that Digital Learning Platforms cannot replace face to face classroom teaching and learning process. We will have to pay a heavy price if we totally replace classroom teaching with digital learning. It is now getting established by studies that when children are taught only by looking at computer or mobile screens, they not only become insensitive to human interaction but can’t even read emotions. It is also being observed that such children were found struggling to interact face to face with each other.”
“ICT revolution preceded the emergence of these Digital Learning Platforms. ICT in education was expected to supplement and reinforce learning process. It was expected to help turn traditional classroom into technology-enabled classrooms through the use of multi-media. Most unfortunately through these digital learning platforms we are attempting to replace human interface in classrooms with digital tools. The learning experience with judicious application of ICT could have been made interesting and complicated topics could have been better explained in a classroom setup in the presence of a teacher,” added the former Vice Chancellor.
“My major concern is what will be the implications of such a rapid transformation and can automation totally replace human interface particularly at school level in general and pre-school level in particular. We seem to be running after new technologies through these digital leaning platforms blindly without any concern for learning processes and its adverse implications on behavioural patterns and personality development particularly of pre and primary children. We may reach a point of no return. The sooner we realise it the better it will be, said professor Aslam.
“The answer is a “bold No” and a “meek Yes”. The universities of future will rely a lot on; AI in teaching, research and learning, have a liberal and flexible curriculum; provide multiple options for the students to engage with the university and the faculty; and need to provide a personalized experience for the students depending on their individual potential and requirements. The future universities will engage students globally by promoting international collaborations, interdisciplinary teaching and cross disciplinary research. The flexibility will also be provided to choose between face to face and online education while ensuring that the quality is not compromised at any level and thus promote blended learning,” said Dr (Mrs) Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU).
Mittal added,” “Universities of future will have a physical campus as well as a campus “in the cloud”. Former faculty and graduated students can continue to take part in the “cloud events” even after leaving the Campus and the universities will continue to support their students with lifelong learning even after they have received their degrees so that they continue to ( in the words of Alvin Toffler) learn, unlearn and re-learn.”
“Although human interface in the classroom shall be essential, we need to train staff to understand learning and analytics and invest in technology to leverage the benefits of technology and AI. Teachers need to be trained to deploy upgraded pedagogical techniques to facilitate learning experiences that are both socially enriching and tailored to the needs of each learner. It is evident that if we can use AI to our advantage, we can considerably reduce the inherent problems being faced by our higher education today,” said Mittal.
MM Ansari, former UGC member and consultant to the Planning Commission of India while sharing his point of view said, “Educational studies have conclusively demonstrated that in view of diverse socioeconomic background of students, mainly in terms of learning behaviour as determined by students’ learning aptitude and attitudes, the ‘student-centred approach’ of teaching and learning is found to be most effective for improving quality of education. Dependence on single mode of education, web-based or classroom-based face to face education is therefore not good enough for promoting quality and quantity of education at various levels. Innovations in communication technologies, mainly digital transmission of data and information have revolutionised the process of teaching and learning.”
He added, “First, online mode of imparting knowledge ensures a wider reach of high-quality and low-cost learning resources; and thus, ensures equalisation of educational opportunities to all the eligible population. As this method provides considerable scope for student-teacher interaction to clarify issues of mutual concerns, quality of education is duly assured, particularly for senior students. Second, learners belong to a diverse group, in terms of socioeconomic background, learning abilities, age groups and geographic locations of students. One shot delivery of lectures under traditional classroom-based system of education, don’t do justice to all the aspirants of education.”
“The approach of ‘blended mode’ of education that combines both on-line and off-line methods of teaching is widely accepted and practiced due mainly to its efficacy. In this backdrop, blended mode of education allows everyone to learn and acquire knowledge at their own pace and convenience, which is why technology mediated education, is effective and acceptable among all the knowledge seekers. And education providers find it cost- efficient as well. Unfortunately, the required infrastructure for promoting blended learning is not available across the country and for various socioeconomic groups of students, said Ansari.
On the dual mode of teaching, the former UGC member said, “Teachers are not duly trained for dual mode of teaching using internet and computers. And all the eligible students particularly from poor families do not have access to digital platforms due to lack of computers and availability of power and electricity connections. Such differences in access to required resources for learning, perpetuates educational disparities which is the main source of social discontentment and economic backwardness of certain classes of people. In conclusion, I must say that while digital learning platforms have significant potential to supplement and compliment the educational efforts for promoting knowledge, this mode of education alone cannot replace or substitute human face to face classroom-based teaching, especially at primary and secondary levels of education.”
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