Self-help is the best help, it is said. For some reason, universities are indifferent towards helping themselves by leveraging whatever autonomy they are bestowed with. For over a decade, there has been a need that is felt for online delivery of higher education by a section of youth and the already employed. But the policies have predominantly remained in favour of in person teaching-learning. Enter the pandemic. Brick and mortar gave way to optic fibre cables and mobile signals. The time was ripe for universities to assert their autonomy and innovate. It was an opportune moment for transformation and operational innovations however, the opportunity was mostly treated as a mere chance to change the mode of the lecture by teachers. Opportunities junked by universities since the Covid calamity struck are a good case in point.

Class Scheduling

Class scheduling was a mundane matter that was altogether missed. The fixed, continuous classwork hours followed during the normal offline days were religiously adopted for virtual classes too. As mobile phones were the primary tool for attending online classes for most students, attending continuous online classes resulted in phones draining out midway, forcing students to trade off one class for another just to charge their drained-out mobile batteries. One essential upside with online education is the flexibility it offers in terms of learning anywhere and anytime. Unimaginative scheduling nullifies that advantage. Universities could have scheduled classes innovatively like having one course per day with mini-breaks, or having two courses per day with longer durations of 2-2.5 hours each with a longer break in between, or having flexi-hours with multiple breaks instead of the fixed continuous working hours.

Customising Syllabi

Universities used the same syllabi that were finalised for in-person teaching mode in the pre-pandemic period. When classes were conducted virtually, the syllabi were not customised to keep the students engaged. Given the syllabi that were amenable for in-person classes, the teachers focussed more on finishing online lectures and syllabi than clarifying the concepts to the understanding of the students. This resulted in casualness among the students and lacklustre lectures from the teachers, as interactions were not as much as they would have otherwise been had the syllabi been ‘personalised’ for online sessions. Even those teachers who were committed were straight-jacketed without bespoke syllabi for online sessions.

Flipped Pedagogy

Offline teaching provides more scope for eliciting active participation from the students, even if a teacher does not exclusively plan for it. This is not possible online, where the onus for making the session participative lies squarely with the teachers. Online classes could have been made highly interactive had flipped classroom model been adopted, where the lecture content is provided upfront to the students, who would work upon it at home and come to the class prepared for interactions and discussions-based learning. Quality, free content is available aplenty, which could have been easily used. If needed, lecturing in online classes could have been fully replaced with discussions based on digital content shared before the classes. This would have been an enriching endeavour even for the teachers.

Collaborative Teaching

It is a fact that students are digitally more literate than teachers with the former being comparatively adept at operating various electronic gadgets with ease. Being an expert in the subject but lacking digital skills to convey the subject matter expertly to the online attendees puts a teacher at disadvantage and students at loss. A cue could have been taken from the Japanese Lesson Study, in which teachers solve classroom issues together in a collaborative manner and improve teaching-learning outcomes. As the size of a class is not an issue in online mode, teachers could have jointly conducted online sessions with the academically more experienced & knowledgeable teacher delivering the lecture and the digitally better-equipped teacher handling the gadgets and ensuring interaction in the class.

Evaluation Reforms

Evaluation is another segment where the old pattern could have been done away with. As syllabi are modularised with each unit carrying specific credits, evaluation of student learning could have also been modularised, wherever possible. Year-end or semester-end exams need not be the norm, as proctoring online exams are extremely difficult and expensive. Continuous internal assessments alone would suffice to evaluate the learning outcomes and can completely replace compulsory term-end exams, even after accounting for teacher biases. Further, open-book exams, virtual quizzes, virtual group discussions, virtual presentations, etc. could have been used for evaluation.

Conclusion

When the outcome is the linchpin for evaluating the performance of higher education institutions, policy and processes also need to be outcome-based. The policy matter is just half the story and is beyond the scope of higher education institutions. When policy parameters fixed by the regulators are not facilitatory enough, universities need to tweak processes to make up for the policy loss. Even when the pandemic changed the academe upside down, universities just played their routine role and were not able to leverage the right set of circumstances for building back better during the pandemic. Going forward every university would be a hybrid university of varying degrees and the pandemic has provided us with a tipping point. Reforming processes is where the higher education institutions were and are found going through a rigmarole at the cost of innovation. This aspect needs immediate attention.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Featured Image Courtesy: Economics Times

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M.Saravanan has worked in public policy for over 12 years, focusing predominantly on higher education. Currently, he works as Deputy Registrar & Chief Finance Officer, Anurag University, Hyderabad. He has offered consultancy services to the Union and State governments, private organisations and educational institutions. He has a Ph.D. in development economics from the University of Madras. His areas of interest cover higher education, school education, skill development and economics. He had been a part of the editorial team of a journal and has published opinion pieces for Deccan Herald and Business Line.

Dr M Saravanan
Dr M Saravanan
M.Saravanan has worked in public policy for over 12 years, focusing predominantly on higher education. Currently, he works as Deputy Registrar & Chief Finance Officer, Anurag University, Hyderabad. He has offered consultancy services to the Union and State governments, private organisations and educational institutions. He has a Ph.D. in development economics from the University of Madras. His areas of interest cover higher education, school education, skill development and economics. He had been a part of the editorial team of a journal and has published opinion pieces for Deccan Herald and Business Line.

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