learning in covid

Learning In Covid-19 Times And Beyond: Turning A Crisis Into An Opportunity

More than 770 million students’ lives have been disrupted by Covid-19 and the consequent lockdowns globally. The United Nations has warned of the unparalleled scale and speed of the educational disruption being caused by Coronavirus.

Every house has been turned into a school and every parent is now a teacher as Covid-19 impacts the education of 250 million school students in India.

While much harm has been done by the pandemic, institutions can use this crisis to sharpen strategies and practices in areas such as internationalization and e-learning. India has over 37 million students enrolled in higher educational institutions (HEIs).

An interruption in the delivery of education could cause long-term disruption. The pandemic requires universities to rapidly offer online learning to their students. Fortunately, technology and content are available to help universities make a quick transition to online education.

Learning broadly has three functions:

  • The creation of learning content through research, writing, and packaging with visuals.
  • The dissemination of learning through classes, lectures, notes, self-study and discussions.
  • The assessment and evaluation of learners through various methods.

All these three have been majorly impacted by the self-isolation rightly imposed to ensure social distancing.

Digital Haves And Have-Nots Dichotomy

Covid-19 is, in fact, amplifying the struggles that children are already facing globally to receive quality education. Even before the outbreak of the virus, there were 258 million out-of-school children across the globe – principally due to poverty, poor governance, or living in or having fled an emergency or conflict.

While there are programs dedicated to end the existing crisis in global education, Covid-19 has introduced newer challenges for around 550 million children, who were so far studying but do not have access to digital learning systems.

learning in covid

The digital divide in every developing society was never as glaring as it is now. Though more than 70 percent of Indian population has been covered now with mobile telephony, the resources needed for digital learning from a distance or at home are not there with more than one out of four students in the country.

On the other hand, if there were no enforced social distancing, the transition of those with partial or full resources to complete digital learning would not have been quickened. What demonetization did to fin-tech, the lockdown has done to edu-tech.

Digital Learning Tools Today

Digital learning calls for tech-led holistic solutions. It requires several content pieces to be transmitted digitally. These content pieces can be in the form of PDFs, PPTs, URLs, YouTube links, podcast links, case studies etc. There can also be e-books, audiobooks, kindle-based content, Magzter-sourced magazines, etc.

Then this can involve learning without being face to face, as in Google Class, or learning face to face as in Zoom. People may also use GoToMeeting or Microsoft Team sessions. Attendance can be taken on Google Spreadsheet and WhatsApp Group.

learning in covid

There are other tools that can take digital learning ahead. Flipped Classroom method with an active learning classroom can have all study resources given in advance, and the actual session starting with a quick quiz, then doubt clearance, and thereafter a few issues of the future or counterpoints.

This methodology is internalized, collaborative, experiential, bottom-up, as distinctly different from teaching, which is instructional, hierarchic and top-down.

Then there are MOOCs, collaborative distance learning, Wikis, Blogs, etc. Individual resource-rich institutes develop their customized secured and IPR protected Learning Management Systems (LMS), through the use of BlackBoard or TCSion. Other LMS options like Kaltura or Impartus that allow video recording are also used. There are Coursera courses, Swayam online lessons from UGC and similar other avenues to learn online.

Learning digitally can be further assisted with Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) which can take the viewer to an enhanced experience. These are immersive and contextual experiences, and artificial intelligence-driven Chatbots can further enhance the digital interface.

Digital Learning Add-ons And Social Media Value-adds

Incorporating big data analytics and content management, educators can develop an individualized curriculum that enhances how each student learns (e.g. Playlist of content in Wisewire changing for each student).

Many in the west have started using contemporary language and style like Khan Academy and YouTube. Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, iMessage, Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp are being creatively integrated with school education. There is a case of a management school in India, where the professor sends a three-minute-long interesting video on the subject he is taking up next through the group.

In the US, Smartphone applications like Socrative and Plickers are helping teachers interact and assess students’ progress. Teachers can publish real-time quizzes and polls for students via mobile devices.

learning in covid

Further, using anything from iMovie to WeVideo, learners can create video as a learning resource. YouTube (with privacy settings) and Seesaw or Flipgrid can also be used. The benefits of Seesaw and Flipgrid are that students can add voice recordings or text sharing feedback with peers. Useful apps like Book CreatorExplain Everything, and Educreations can also be utilized. 

Various software packages are used to create digital content like Camtasia, Raptivity, Captivate, Articulate Online etc.

Social media will support learning online. Facebook Pages can broadcast updates and alerts. Facebook Groups or Google Hangout with advanced features in G-suite can stream live lectures and host discussions. Twitter can act as a class message board.

The 256 characters help to keep messages succinct. Instagram can be used for photo essays. One can create a class blog for discussions. There are many different platforms available such as WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, and Blogger for that. Also, one can create a class-specific Pinterest board.

Digital Assessment And Evaluation

Online quizzes, open-book examinations with time-managed and proctored question papers delivered online, applied questions and telephonic interviews, etc have been the usual ways of digital assessment and evaluation.

Assessment refers to learner performance. It helps us decide if students are learning and where improvement is needed. Evaluation refers to a systematic process of determining the merit or worth of the instruction or program. It helps us determine if a course is effective (course goals). Assessments and evaluations can be both formative (carried out during the course) and summative (carried out following the course).

There can be many ways for the same. Mentors can make learners aware of expectations in advance (e.g. one week for feedback from deadline) and keep them posted (announcements like ‘All projects have been marked’). Mentors can consider auto-grading options offered by LMSs and Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs).

For example, one can create tests that are multiple choices, true/ false, or short answer essays and one can set the assessments to automatically provide feedback.

Mentors can also incorporate a peer feedback process into their courses through student assignments. They get an initial level of feedback before submitting the assignment, prompt feedback and mentors get a better assignment in the end.

One particular popular assessment option for online and blended learning is rubrics. In part, their popularity is based on the level of detail included. Rubrics help to define the characteristics of a high-quality assignment and help the student understand assignment and assessment expectations. Rubrics also provide a range of performances by establishing categories that span the range of possible outcomes, from basic to exceptional performance on a task.

If we are using an LMS/ VLE, there are additional opportunities to micro-evaluate. This type of evaluation can occur through polls, reflections on your analysis of online transcripts and student activity logs, and reports. Notably, we can plan for such forms of evaluation during the course design process and embed them in the learning architecture.

Possibilities In Post Covid-19 Education

Hamish Coates, a professor at Tsinghua University’s Institute of Education told Times Higher Education,

“The first priority is for institutions to care for the people involved – students, faculty members, staff, and the communities we serve. This is a human situation.” Post this comes access to digital learning and the rest.

Online learning is the big winner from this – across all education levels; so proving quality now is at the center stage. However, going ahead, in the post-Covid-19 times, blended learning will be the way to go. The biggest future benefits of virtual instruction will come after our professors and students return to their physical classrooms.

learning in covid

The necessity of teaching and learning with asynchronous (Canvas, Blackboard, D2L) and synchronous (Zoom) platforms will yield significant benefits when these methods are layered into face-to-face instruction. Since professors are now moving content online, precious classroom time will be more productively utilized for discussion, debate, and guided practice.

Online education will also be a strategic priority in higher education going ahead. This post-pandemic understanding will change how HEIs plan for, manage and fund online education.

Previously decentralized and distributed online course development and student support functions will be centralized, subject to institutional planning and cross-campus governance. Management of online learning will be integrated into existing academic leadership structures and processes.

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Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury

Pro Vice-Chancellor, Adamas University, Kolkata
Former Dean, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi & Mumbai
Former Director, Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication & Dean, SIU, Pune

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