“Learning does not stop” during the COVID-19 crisis: Manav Rachna University
As India reported its first Corona positive case, the government began to issue directives for states to ensure people are safeguarded. The Ministry of Education advised necessary measures so that the virus does not spread.
Manav Rachna International Institute of Research & Studies (MRIIRS) and Manav Rachna University (MRU) underwent immediate changes in teaching, research and other administrative plans in the face of COVID-19 lockdown.
With 8000 students registered for multi-disciplinary programs (Engineering, Science, Technology, Physiotherapy, Nutrition, Law, Management, Liberal education) in January 2020, online classes commenced from March 13, 2020, when other institutes were mulling over measures to cope with COVID-19.
Various measures, in line with the government directives, were taken. Both MRIIRS and Manav Rachna University (MRU) planned to implement technology to resume teaching. With the motto of “learning does not stop”, faculty members were trained on various e-platforms to continue interacting with students.
Manav Rachna Trains Faculty for Online Teaching
Manav Rachna established a Centre for Advanced Learning (CAL) to train all faculty members for teaching through the online mode. Tools and e-platforms like Zoom, Google class, Microsoft Teams, BlackBoard were used to connect with students and engage them in co-curricular and extracurricular activities.
The process helped to familiarize them with the use of various technology platforms and digital tools for technology-enhanced learning.
The University had been using ERP and a Learning Management System for the past few years. New SOPs were developed for making the online education system more transparent and robust. Delivering lectures in an online mode requires video conferencing to be incorporated.
Classes began in online mode on various platforms from 13th March 2020, including online quizzes, tests and online tools-aided assessments. Universities conducted the second mid-semester examination (T2) and all assessments were done from March 21, 2020, onwards in an online mode.
The faculty conducted online sessions in lieu of face-to-face classes to complete in January 2020. End semester examinations were held from 8-15 May 2020 as stated in the academic calendar. The evaluation was completed in three days followed by announcing results thereafter.
Measures for improvement
An analysis was made to see the effect of the changes incorporated that were necessitated due to COVID-19, on the quality of learning. In most of the cases, it was observed that faculty members have assessed students for higher-order learning on Bloom's Taxonomy through online mode.
This provided confidence to all that, besides the engagement of students for teaching it helped in the learning of higher-order outcomes. Based on the feedback received from students the additional training was imparted online for delivery to specific faculty to make it more effective and interactive.
The University enhanced the existing digital infrastructure revising its IT strategy. A major change which was incorporated in the teaching and learning environment is the inclusion of video conferencing which requires higher bandwidth.
Some faculty members focused on AI and other technologies for the benefit of the students for personalized adaptive learning. Such processes made assessments transparent, engaged students and monitoring progress of each individual student possible on a regular basis. The involvement of students improved by several levels in the attendance achieved through this short term strategy.
Development of E-content
Focusing on the quality of e-content being provided to the students, special training sessions were organized for teachers. Centre for Advanced Learning shall continue to handhold faculty of the Universities and faculty of other institutions as well.
During this period, the Universities students came up with various innovative ideas that motivated them to go to the next stage and use these concepts for creating start-ups.
Manav Rachna established ‘SATHI’, a 24 X 7 counselling hotline for students, staff and the general public to help anyone when in distress. It also accelerated several community services to help needy people and ensured that no one sleeps without having food (a motto which was given by the Founder of the Universities Dr O.P Bhalla).
Every week, about 1000 persons were provided with dry rations. Some faculty members and students also got engaged with various NGOs.
Preparation for Next Semester
The following semester was initiated by the universities immediately after results were announced. The university was appreciated by industry partners for this decision as students were thought to be free by September. Hopefully, the pandemic will be under control and students can go to industry or R&D organizations or work at university’s IIC on innovative ideas for at least 12 weeks.
Manav Rachna converted the challenge into an opportunity and also encouraged faculty and students to use innovative methods. Their transformation is proven figuratively that is attributed to three reasons, (i) Present students are tech-savvy and enjoy learning using digital technologies (ii) online classroom is more inclusive and increased participation in asking questions through chat provision or raising the hand (iii) probably, the parents worked as constant focus-pullers.
With uncertainties lingering around reopening Universities for face to face learning the shift to digital learning paced up than expected. The universities encouraged teachers to develop e-content for delivery during next semester scheduled from May 26, 2020 in a more thoughtful manner.
This led to evolution of blended or hybrid mode, which is now a more accepted way of delivery where satisfaction level among both teacher and the teacher is of higher level and university feels that this mode will be a preferred mode in months and years to come.
Social distancing has also accelerated development of new models aided by Artificial Intelligence. These can be more sustainable than the present systems which shall maximize the interpersonal interaction with the teachers and the peers.
Learning through Emerging Technologies
In some areas which are practice-based and where not much change is felt in the area where practical work is a part of the course assessment. The practical classes require specialized equipment with latest technologies along-with the use of materials. The core courses in engineering which are having this component, do have limitations in this aspect.
Some of the laboratory work is of routine nature and can be taken care of by simulations. Manav Rachna in collaboration with IIT Delhi has been able to get most of the experiments conducted through an online mode. In many cases, these experiments can be accomplished on smartphones thus avoiding the purchase of costly equipment.
Recently it has also led to the development of IoT activities which use sensor-based information and is especially important for the future of manufacturing. Such integrated technologies in future will enhance learning by detecting learning progress and adapt the difficulty of contents to learner’s skill level, capability and learners learning style.
Such technologies are expected to provide a learning environment for optimal benefit in achieving good grades and acquire skills required in the workplace subsequently. It will be important for universities to appropriately enhance the quality of equipment/machinery so that the theoretical concepts learnt are complemented by practical work for skill enhancement.
Technologies used in online or digital learning at universities have an inherent shortcoming of face to face social interaction with their peers.
Physical classrooms provide an opportunity to develop interpersonal relationships and socio-cultural understanding. Future technologies need to address issues of social distancing and prevalent challenges in imbibing life skills.
The Edutech sector is focusing on digital technologies that erase negative impact on learners considering psychological, social, behavioural aspects. More emphasis needs to be given to integrate real-life scenarios and make online learning a pleasant experience. Teachers need to assess the methods being used by them and use appropriate technology in a specific situation.
Learning using e-content, audio and video conferencing is the new norm. The goal should be to find appropriate technology which is effective in providing students with appropriate content and create opportunities to apply this knowledge in problem-solving and designing new creative products and processes.
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