Why in news?

  • Universities and colleges were in the middle of the second semester of their academic year when the lockdown was enforced.
  • A few universities made hasty arrangements for teachers to continue to hold their classes virtually through video conferencing services such as Zoom.
  • The transition to virtual modes was relatively less difficult for those institutions that had, even prior to the lockdown, adopted learning management system platforms like Blackboard or Moodle.
  • All the above were well-meaning attempts, albeit somewhat impromptu, to keep the core educational processes going through this period.

Strategy to enhance enrolment?

  • It was reported that online education was likely to be adopted as a strategy to enhance the gross enrolment ratio in higher education.
  • This prompts several questions about the appropriateness of what may well be an effective contingency measure to tide over the pandemic crisis to be deployed as a long-term strategy for enhancing enrolment in higher education.

What about those who are on the margins?

  • Higher education today has an unprecedented influx of students who are first-generation aspirants – who have no cultural capital to bank on while struggling their way through college.
  • The margins would have to negotiate through language and social barriers.
  • These students are also from the other side of the digital divide which makes them vulnerable to a double disadvantage if digital modes become the mainstay of education.
  • It is therefore necessary to think deeply and gather research-based evidences on the extent to which online education can be deployed to help enhance the access and success rates.

What learning involves?

  • Acquisition of given knowledge that can be transmitted didactically by a teacher or a text constitutes only one minor segment of curricular content. It is this segment that is largely amenable to online and digital forms of transaction.
  • Learning in Higher Education involves development of analytical and other intellectual skills, the ability to critically deconstruct and evaluate given knowledge, and the creativity to make new connections and syntheses.
  • It also means to acquire practical skills, explore, inquire, seek solutions to complex problems, learn to work in teams and more.
  • All these by and large assume direct human engagement – not just teacher-student interaction, but also peer interactions, including informal ones.
  • However, when we attempt to build this on an Online platform it gets collapsed into largely information-based content when transacted through standard and uniform structures of teaching-learning and examination.

Conclusion

Online learning needs to be understood as one strand in a complex tapestry of curricular communication that may still assign an important central role to direct human engagement and social learning.

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