Blended learning is the way forward after the pandemic
The University Grants Commission (UGC), which is India's higher education regulatory body, has framed regulations for minimum standards for quality teaching.
Some of these provisions are 180 days of teaching in a year, 30 hours of teaching in a week, 75% attendance in theory and practical classes and specific credit value for courses that are offered over 15 weeks in a semester, excluding admission, examination and time for other co-curricular activities.
These regulations have certainly been breached during COVID-19. For this reason, the UGC appointed a committee to investigate the issues of examinations and the academic calendar in light of the pandemic. The committee has submitted its report and the UGC regulations will reportedly be amended to make provision for the unprecedented situation we are facing.
The committee believes that some universities lack the technology infrastructure needed for online teaching and online examinations. Indeed, recommending a one-size-fits-all approach and expecting every teacher to teach online is incongruous if we consider issues of equity and inclusion.
Based on advice from different quarters, many institutions have started using synchronous online tools for teaching and are using the tools intuitively. Despite their lack of training, several teachers have tried using Facebook Live or YouTube videos to teach.
COVID-19 has created an atmosphere for technology-enabled learning in higher education in India. It is time that policy-makers and educators took advantage of the current situation to reform Indian higher education and create a resilient system that supports equity, excellence and expansion.
The UGC committee falls short of thinking beyond the current crisis and recommends that, moving forward, just 25% of the syllabus should be taught online. We have to rethink what kind of higher education we need in India. The Ministry of Human Resource Development is in the process of formulating a national policy on education. It is therefore timely that we discuss the nature of teaching and learning in the 21st century in India.
Digital resources for blended learning
Indian educators are not alone in the current crisis. While there is no need to emulate the practices adopted in high-income countries, there are lessons we can learn and improvise.
India is better prepared than most other countries to integrate information and communications technology (ICT) more effectively and adopt blended learning. Already huge amounts of digital educational resources, such as the Consortium for Educational Communication’s undergraduate e-courses, INFLIBNET’s e-PGPathshala, SWAYAM MOOCs and NPTEL courses, are available to be used by teachers and students.
With the UGC’s focus on integrating ICT in teaching and learning by 2022 as part of its quality mandate, Indian higher education could take the next leap and consider ‘blended learning’ as a policy to deliver teaching and learning.
Blended learning is an approach to systematically mix face-to-face teaching with online learning, where the online component can be delivered through both synchronous modes and asynchronous modes, where people learn in different locations at different times.
Blending can also happen at three levels – at an institutional level, at a programme level and at a course level. Ideally, some of the courses (those with practical and skills components) can only be taught face-to-face, while others can be delivered either in blended or completely online mode.
In the United States, about 33% of all post-secondary students take at least one online or distance education course while studying in face-to-face institutions. The Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan-C) defines a blended learning course as one where 30%-79% of the content is delivered online, while an online course could have anything over 79% of its content offered online.
A blended course experience will not have the 90 hours of contact time expected in a six-credit course over 15 weeks. The overall student experience can be divided into several activities carried out face-to-face or online.
Assuming that a blended course will have 50% direct contact, the balance of hours can comprise videos (facilitating flipped learning in the classroom), discussion forums (contributing to meaning-making and knowledge construction in a social environment), online quizzes, assignments and online reading resources as per requirement of the course.
Adopting blended learning as a policy in Indian higher education institutions could also help to reduce the unreasonable focus on examinations, paving the way for continuous formative assessment and use of alternative assessment methods recommended by the UGC committee report.
Interestingly, UGC regulations on minimum standards in teaching and learning also allow universities to adopt term papers, projects, field work, seminars, etc, as methods of assessment, leaving this to universities’ boards of studies and academic councils. Wherever possible and suitable, online examinations could also be conducted using proctoring tools.
Recently, the issue of lack of bandwidth for online learning has been a matter of debate. We need to think of ways to improve access to the internet by zero rating of data for educational platforms and by providing support to both students and teachers to have access to computers and the internet for teaching and learning.
There is a need for a paradigm shift in our thinking about teaching and learning to create an enabling environment for learning with technology. Teacher capacity is key, but we must also change our mindset about teaching and learning as just a same time, same place activity.
Sanjaya Mishra is education specialist (e-learning) at the Commonwealth of Learning, Canada. The views expressed are personal.