Time to Change the Way We Teach and Learn
| Dr. Debarshi Mukherjee, Tripura University, Agartala - 22 Apr 2021

Physical classes have been suspended in most of the institutions, public examinations have been either canceled or postponed and the entire academic ecosystem is going to be refrigerated until further order. This is chaos. Indeed it is.The fallacy is that most of the teachers teaching online know fully at their discretion how futile the entire exercise is. It is similar to the calculation of work done by an individual who has been asked to push away a stone wall by own hands.Does it mean we should stop teaching online and wait till the pandemic gets over? My answer would be No; rather we should device better engagement and assessment models with shorter and flexible cycle run rather than upholding the behemoths of semester systems with agile assessment techniques.

By Dr. Debarshi Mukherjee 

The second wave of COVID-19 pandemic has taken India and the whole world at large under its grip and testing the grit and resilience of the people of the country in this fierce battle of survival. Physical classes have been suspended in most of the institutions, public examinations have been either canceled or postponed and the entire academic ecosystem is going to be refrigerated until further order. This is chaos. Indeed it is. The fallacy is that most of the teachers teaching online know fully at their discretion how futile the entire exercise is. It is similar to the calculation of work done by an individual who has been asked to push away a stone wall by own hands. Despite the earnest efforts made by the individual who has applied the maximum force could not move the wall a bit and since the displacement is zero the complete work done boils down to zero.

The cacophony of online teaching-learning practices is moving towards a similar and sordid end. Having said this, I would like to contend further that not only in India but in countries ranging from the USA, Russia to Bangladesh, or Afghanistan, the students equivocally have exhibited a negative response to online education. Therefore, let’s accept the fact the entire student community around the world and cutting across primary, secondary, and tertiary segments are not prepared to accept online learning. Does it mean we should stop teaching online and wait till the pandemic gets over? My answer would be No; rather we should device better engagement and assessment models with shorter and flexible cycle run rather than upholding the behemoths of semester systems with agile assessment techniques. A section of the society resents my constant advocacy of flexible self-paced online learning prescriptions and brings up challenges of affordability, psychological bottlenecks, and distrust towards technology – a much native feeling embedded deep down the minds. My usual response remains pretty bland, is there a better alternative? Period!

During the last year or more and despite persistent efforts from the educators of the schools, colleges, and universities the practice of the online teaching-learning process could not evoke acceptance and rather remained as an imposition. Interestingly, the growth of online education companies has been phenomenal. These companies provide training on different subject matter for secondary education, entrance examination preparation, or skill-based certification to enhance employability in the long run. Many such online education & training companies boast of a populous student pool as proof of their pedagogic acceptance.

Now, the all-important question pops up before us that if a student is accepting training from these corporate houses then why there’s such resistance to online training in different academic institutions?The answer to this question lies in the way education is imparted in academic institutes barring a few professional institutes where effective steps are taken using the tools of learning analytics and skill gap measurement techniques. Even after so many decades after independence, the general degree colleges and universities have not been to decolonize themselves from the fractal dimensions of education, and the history is being repeated year after year in the same tone and timbre as it used to be earlier.

The cohort-based learning restricted within the confines of a rigid syllabus deprives the students of a hedonic feeling of learning. In the context of higher education, Ezra Pound,the famous poet of the 20th century once said, “Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing. The rest is mere sheep herding.”I concur with the view as without a pursuit for knowledge men (to be treated as a gender-neutral identifier for students)the learning motivation will remain as a mirage. All modern learning theories like the theory of constructivism or media richness theory or the theory of connectivism have emphasized the role of learner maturity as one of the determinants to ensure higher learning gain, especially in a networked environment.Sometimes I feel amazed to see how a mobile device used for entertainment fails to qualify for a learning device. The CII report of 2020 suggests that since March 2020 the consumption of mobile data has increased by 20% - 25% and the average time spent on the mobile phone has risen to 4.3 hours per day which is an increase of 27%. More interestingly, we are spending an additional 40% of the time on a video streaming platform.

To supplement this fact it’s also worth pondering that the growth of OTT platforms in the entertainment space also gains acceptance from the people at large during the pandemic and to fight the monotony of life’s drudgery. I have said this before and would like to reiterate that if anyone has an idea in the back of their minds about the resumption of normalcy soon and restoration of the earlier teaching-learning ecosystem and educators can get back to the chalk-n-talk mode of teaching – it’s a wakeup call for them as the pedagogic style has undergone a tectonic shift, a generational change where the educator is no more a sage on the stage, rather a facilitator of a complex adaptive system (CAS) earlier known as institutional learning. We may need to create technology intervention at various intervals of a course to measure the learning outcomes and map it with the expected learning gain for the students.

In 1980, Knowles has given the idea of a learning continuum where a student starts the learning sojourn through assistive learning and moves on to self-paced learning thus enjoying every phase of it and gains maturity in the process. I had propagated the ideas of Learning Continuity where it was suggested that each student in any cohort falls into any of the four quadrants of a learner matrix depending on their learning habit i.e., induced (less time and content), rote(less time but huge content), traditional (enough time but less content) and matured (maximum time and huge content). Interestingly, the matrix posits that the position of the learner in the quadrant is not stationary and it may change dynamically depending on subjectivity and the learner’s grit.

The objective of the learner is to move from an induced state to a mature state where maximum engagement with the content is achieved and the maximum time is allowed to the learner so that the learner can develop necessary insights into the subject and self-learning habit is also inculcated.Learning is a continuous process and keeps occurring ubiquitously inside as well as outside the classroom, in the presence and absence of a teacher. However, engagement with the content, maximum allowed time, learner’s grit and technology intervention enhances the learning experience securing learning gain thereby.

It is high time that the policymakers call for not only a pedagogical course correction rather a drastic redesign of the teaching methods by creating necessary interventions of assessment and evaluation criteria. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has brought in a spell of fresh air and perhaps would be able to achieve the targeted outcome through multiple iterations post-implementation.

Keywords: Learning continuity, online teaching, online learning, pedagogy, learner matrix

Author Biography

DR. DEBARSHI MUKHERJEE

 The author is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Business Management, Tripura University. He is the State Coordinator of the AICTE sponsored Student Induction Programme for Tripura. He has been nominated as a Mentor by AICTE for newly inducted teachers of technical educationand as an expert for AICTE’s NEAT 2.0 initiative.His research interest lies in developing blended learning models and ICT intervention in tertiary education. He has worked extensively in curricula design and Innovative Andragogy Development over the last two decades. Besides writing regularly for newspapers and portals on contemporary issues he has also deliberated in the different television/ radio shows in Tripura and Bangladesh. 

Represetational Images - The way they are teaching us in online classes, I’d either become Dr.Salunkhe or Dr.Mashoor Gulati / FB Page, Ujjwal Jammu News / commonwealthtimes.org


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