Covid-19 pandemic-impacted higher education will be different mainly in the mode of teaching and evaluation. Nationally there was a call for a de facto switch to virtual teaching, learning and evaluation, pushing a huge number of teachers into an unfamiliar mode. Online mode, formerly allowed only in open universities and varsities graded 3.5 onwards, is now licensed for all universities to run their UG and PG programmes accordingly.
Online as the new normal
Hailed as a more effective, quick and less expensive mode, online teaching/learning is being given precedence over the campus mode as the new normal. It has been suggested that a single podcast at the national level hosting the entire course material for smart teaching can ensure quality. Now, there is the UGC platform called SWAYAM offering several open online courses.
It appears that the contingent situation will predictably divide higher education institutions into two types: a) covering humanities and social sciences taught informally through virtual mode, less expensive and meant for liberal arts and social sciences and (b) covering pure sciences professional disciplines excluding law. Virtual higher education can never match the one imparted through campus-based real classroom that is distinct for various critical aspects of rigorous learning. Students of eminent universities enjoy the advantage of in-face interactive learning distinct for criticality and creativity of the campus.
The immediate post-pandemic change in campus-based education will be behavioural, distinct for physical distancing, masking and sanitising; bringing about rearrangements in classroom, library, laboratory, common rooms and just about everywhere. In the given situation all this will be formally insisted upon, but as mere rhetoric implying the real to be inevitably dubious. A likely development is the operation of the new time schedule, enabling the execution of the ‘Earn While You Learn Scheme.’ Several interdisciplinary programmes in emerging areas, hoping better employability will be in vogue as offered in blended mode.
Online teaching and evaluation, pushed as a new normal under the pretext of the pandemic crisis, upset objectives of access, equity and excellence in the higher education sector. About 30 per cent of students at home under lockdown are not able to access online lessons due to lack of internet connectivity. Further, a massive shift to online mode will be tantamount to making one-third of the teaching faculty redundant, a strategy likely to be adopted for public expenditure cut under the crony-capitalist setup.
Quality of the post-Covid higher education will slump further both on the campus under a behavioural shambles and in online devoid of professionalism. What teachers now practise by way of online is carrying drudgery of real to the virtual. It is not smart classroom teaching rendered as podcast. Virtual teaching is not a substitute for the Real that has all the exclusive advantages of being real.The Covid-induced virtual mode will bring about several transformations in the concept of higher education institutions, their clientele and practices. Competence in teaching, learning and evaluation will be e-competence. Likewise, learning outcome will be computational, teaching ICT-linked, evaluation online, quality e-competency related, access technology dependent and equity a mere rhetoric.
Differences between online and classroom teaching are not merely confined to the medium and environment. There are differences in the art or science of teaching, designing learning outcomes, techniques of communication, ways of facilitating learning and methods of evaluation. It is important for teachers to be formally accustomed to the art, science and methods of ICT-based pedagogy to become effective in virtual teaching.
As for the long-term impact, interdisciplinary academic programmes will rank the foremost. Disciplines will increasingly draw closer to one another in the wake of the emergence of more and more cross-disciplinary areas of knowledge. Blurring of disciplinary borders in higher education will demand cross-disciplinary literacy among teachers and adaptability among students. Growth of sciences through narrow specialisations, in their turn becoming sub-disciplines of added rigidity, will force the break of disciplinary silos and allow flexibility of choice in specialisation across disciplines. Higher education will become more and more personal and self-directed -- rather than general -- and institutionally administered through fixed requirements and procedures.
The author is vice-chairman, Kerala Higher Education Council