The Covid-19 contagion will come to an end and we will return to our usual life. The yearning to get back to our old normal is reasonable. But what if we get back to a better new normal? Although with various limitations, the sudden shift of face-to-face classes to online classes made it possible for students to recover what was left of their semester. Higher education (HE) will never be the same and universities all over the world are now engaged in the largest and most revolutionary technology-enabled pedagogical changes: a paradigm shift that will potentially shape the future course of campus life. Higher education institutions (HEI) are making sweeping changes in a very short period of time.
The traditional paradigm of universities has been a four-year university experience featuring life on campus, with lectures, presentations, seminars, laboratories, dormitories, social and cultural activities, sports, and—of course—semester breaks. This traditional campus experience can be personally, socially, and intellectually transformative. It develops the learner into a gregarious and confident individual due to constant interaction with the teacher and fellow students helping one another in acquiring cognitive knowledge and practical skills relevant to the completion of the course.
As we in HEI make short-term decisions to respond to the global pandemic, we will also have a long-term opportunity to reinvent the traditional university in-person learning experience.
Transforming the traditional university learning paradigm is an opportunity at hand and an appropriate course of action to address the teaching and learning requirements under the uncertainties of Covid-19. Online education has been around for a while, a flexible, and a proven support tool to a traditional face-to-face education. It challenges the teachers to be more creative to ensure that knowledge is imparted and learning takes place in the learners. On the other hand, it develops nuances and creativity on the students on how to cope with the new approach in teaching thereby, learning becomes more accessible and easy as it becomes more customary to the new teaching-learning process.
Before the pandemic, HEIs were adapting to the technological changes as they come, it was never a question of if they would adapt, but a question of how can we acclimate to these changes. Administrative matters, academic scheduling, curricula, assignments, and even some assessments have moved online, but most students are still expected to attend lectures, laboratories, and seminars. Although there is a proliferation of personal computer and smart devices, the HEIs, in general, have not seen a significant increase in major technology-enabled pedagogy.
The COVID 19 has transformed that. When the dust settles, millions of students will acknowledge and realize that there are valuable learnings which have taken place, even though they were not on-campus and learning face-to-face. Though, we must admit that online education is not an accurate or an easy substitute for the on-campus experience— but exploring ways to innovate and combine the two delivery models will be a great advantage to HEIs. There will always be a need for a physical presence since we are naturally socially inclined beings. Eventually, the future campus scenario could merge online learning with traditional campus learning into a blended learning model. The universities will continue to explore novel ideas and mechanism both inherent or adaptation from experiences of other learning environment and approaches.
Universities can leverage the impact of this pandemic. There is no reason why HE can’t be paced along with the traditional four years, in-person with the online delivery. There is no absolute reason why HE shouldn’t take advantage of this opportunity to move into a Blended Learning environment.
Just as consumers have welcomed the choice between a physical and online options for everything from banking to paying bills to grocery shopping, HE should also offer students a choice for physical and online learning or both. One of the biggest differences with education, however, is the outcome. Online learning may require a shift in expectations of what we’re preparing our students for. In education, the vision is always directed towards a reflection of the student’s future and if they have developed to be a capable workforce, and instilled with a set of cultural and social values. However, in our changing world, companies and offices across the globe have sent their employees from face to face to “working from home” (WFH), a sudden reality, the future HEIs will be highly influenced by what the workplace becomes. HEIs should equip the students with capabilities and capacities to respond to the requirement of the emerging and evolving job market.
Accessibility of class lectures of well-known professors available online to students at any institution will benefit the students. There is no fundamental difference between this technique and using textbooks authored by the same professors, because essentially the students are learning straight from the “horse’s mouth” only now with more trust and confidence. Although, the online teaching platform will challenge the traditional paradigm since it is more suitable to deliver lecture-case study-based courses than a science and engineering laboratories or a studio in the architecture or visual arts – and this is where HE can benefit with the blended learning environment, a method in which effectively combines teaching using technological means without replacing BUT instead incorporating the traditional format.
Our goal now is to meet the need of our new generation of students in this global pandemic for a more efficient education and connect with this reality in which face to face will not be possible until we find a cure or vaccine for COVID 19. We have to take advantage of the technology that is already a part of our daily life.
The greatest advantage of blended learning is that it offers the best of both worlds – advantages of the technology, the online platforms and its advancements combined with the benefits of the traditional HEI design.
If done right, the blended learning could potentially allow more students to enroll in universities because of the convenience of learning at home or other suitable place and pace. The flexibility of an HEI will promote resilience and agility, which can lead to higher retention and graduation rates. Allowing students and faculty to engage at their convenience can alleviate compromises between education, work, and family. While the students are using the virtual learning, they will have the ability and option to listen, re-listen, and slow down the online learning module that they are currently attending until they fully comprehend. It will also, improve access to desired courses. It can also increase access by drawing in students unable to pursue a degree in a traditional campus setting.
As we have already witnessed universities made some immediate, fundamental shifts, these short-term and immediate adaptations could profound long-term implications for how we plan for future learning space.
For the faculty and management, this will require more overall attention to both the fundamentals of good teaching and learning as well as more preparation for teaching in online settings. The deep integration of teaching-learning and technology is evolving. We are currently embarking on this and how adaptable HEIs, their faculty and students can be in accelerating from different points into this integration. If most HEIs do this as a community, we will get where we need to go with faculty and students leading the way.
For the transformation to have maximum outcomes, it should be handled as a learning and a teaching moment for both faculty and students. HEI leaders and faculty should acknowledge where they are on the journey of effective online pedagogy and invite the students into the journey with them. This way we have an institution-level common understanding of what good teaching-learning would look like. This would provide a frame of reference for understanding and immersion in blended learning.
Blended learning promotes the dynamic classroom connections that are important to both students and faculty while also providing new modes of engagement. The effectiveness of online components is strengthened by the human connections developed in a person.
Technology is a digital tool that can work in service of good teaching with the appropriate preparation, design, delivery and support. It can create a sense of community by reducing the bureaucracies of a traditional classroom, therefore, reducing hierarchy. The larger challenge is how to continue to embrace individual faculty teaching excellence while guiding the overall quality of teaching. This is the case with both face-to-face and technology-enabled learning.
For HE’s to transform into a blending learning – Resilience, flexibility and agility along with the engagement from all stakeholders are the critical elements that HEIs should have.
How will these immediate changes play a role in defining what the future university will be like?
We need to allow for our universities to not only address the immediate pandemic at hand but also plan for a long-term vision to evolve the traditional learning environment while looking to a future state of a more blended learning experience. If we take the best practices we have learned from other HEIs that have implemented successfully the hybrid learning programs, make use of the knowledge-base within our university system, and augment the impact for our future generations, this would be a true paradigm shift in higher education that would transform its trajectory for generations to come.
HE stakeholders face a challenge and opportunity in trying to evaluate quality even as the pedagogical activity they are assessing is changing, in real-time, into something else. With the appropriate respect for work and support to continue to develop their craft, they will help redefine quality for this new better normal.
What this environment will lead to is greater recognition of the role that teaching-learning experts bring to the table. This environment will shine a light on the expertise, flexibility, creativity, resilience, agility and humanity not only of these individuals but of the higher education ecosystem as a whole.
The reality is that if HEIs can approach blended learning as an opportunity to combine the best of both worlds with face-to-face and virtual teaching approaches, it can expand the experience that educators and management can draw experiences from. This off-campus transformation dictated by the coronavirus, make it all but certain that online learning is poised for explosive future growth.
CARMEN Z. LAMAGNA
Vice Chancellor, American Internation University-Bangladesh
DULCE CORAZON L. MAZUMDER
Senior Assistant Professor, American Internation University-Bangladesh