Given the physical restrictions posed by COVID-19, especially when lockdown is imposed in various regions, using technology and the internet to ensure continuity of classes has been a widely utilised mode of operation for various HEIs. It not only allows the continuity of classes, but also minimises the risk of exposure given the high rate of transmission of the coronavirus. This section aims to address the various advantages and challenges of online learning, and the various checkpoints that may be considered while planning e-classrooms.
TEACHING & LEARNING (T&L) ACTIVITIES
E-Classroom T&L Strategy
To plan effective teaching and learning in an online mode, we would need to adopt a structured approach to planning the course implementation of an HEI. For this, the following steps have been recommended:
HEIs could consider COVID-19 related disruptions as an opportunity to review the structure of courses. At a minimum, the courses need detailed classification based on the nature of the course. This can include but not be limited to the following classification categories:
|Given the high risk exposure associated with physical classrooms, it is recommended that online learning is considered for academic continuity planning.|
The courses can also be classified based on pedagogical components involved. Following are examples (the list is not exhaustive):
Such a classification is necessary for any ACP since the infrastructural and procedural requirements will vary for diﬀerent types of courses.
Given the uncertainty of phases of lockdown, the period of the ongoing pandemic and the duration for which the institution may need to continue online classes, it would be safer to plan a course strategy with an assumption that the entire semester needs to be implemented online. Accordingly, an analysis should be undertaken for every course being offered at the institution. This should include:1. Feasibility Analysis
|It would be safer to plan a course strategy with an assumption that the entire semester needs to be implemented online.|
Identify those aspects of a course (or the entire course) which may not be feasible to implement. Planning the way forward could include:
|Instead of delivering a lecture, the course instructors can consider using fipped classrooms.|
Within Indian the context, the course instructor has always played a central role in traditional classrooms by acting as an authority on the subject-matter. The online format presents an opportunity to come out of this model and engage with students as active learners while not being physically present within the same space. Instead of delivering a lecture, the course instructors can consider using flipped classrooms. In this approach the faculty can assign the theoretical component as pre-reads for the class and utilise the classroom time for practical applications including discussions on real-life case-studies, solving numerical problems, or any other practical component associated with the course. The goal should be to ensure engagement of at least as many students as that in physical classrooms. To plan the methodology, the faculty may want to perform a rough analysis of their class to understand the population of students. The following categorisation may be used –
Based on this analysis, the faculty may now choose the way to customise the content, use creative means to engage students, and most importantly, decide the delivery methodology required to deliver the class.
The other two parameters which the institution can consider based on feasibility are:
Delivery Methodology Identification
While the following main methodologies can be used to deliver the online classes, the above categorisation of students can be used to understand the various proportions in which the following methodologies should be used.
Hybrid – During live virtual classes, most sessions are happening at present with videos remaining off for students or even course instructors due to internet bandwidth constraints. Even audio remains patchy in most cases making interactions among course participants a diﬃcult task. Thus, the body language related cues remain largely unavailable to the instructors. This makes synchronous discussions challenging. Thus faculty may explore hybrid means to conduct classes and can use the following means to create/add an element of interaction to the asynchronous means:
|The faculty can utilise social media platforms including WhatsApp or Facebook to create course specifc groups and use these for engaging students in asynchronous discussions related to the course.|
Under the conditions of continuing education from home, students will not have access to libraries, reading rooms, or hostel rooms. The studying and reading environment in various households given the presence of multiple family members or space limitations may not be conducive for focused reading of long texts. This could limit the concentration and attention span of students during the off-class studying and thereby pre- reads and post-reads can be highly ineffective. In fact, even the most motivated students in the class may find it tough to navigate the traditional text-heavy content, especially if they do not have access to physical textbooks.
Thus, the course content will need to be modified to limit the duration required to read the material, use diverse formats of content delivery and also suit the digital screens.
In order to achieve this, the following techniques may be utilised:
|The course content will need to be modiﬁed to limit the duration required to read the material, use diverse formats of content delivery and also suit the digital screens.|
Pedagogy & Experiential Learning
The institutions also need to take a call on the pedagogical elements that will be permitted or restricted. For example, courses requiring travel for field work which are for penultimate batches could be postponed for later semesters. Alternatively, these can be converted into digital ethnographies wherever possible. Certain courses with laboratory or studio components may be modified to utilise virtual tools (labs, design platforms) for the upcoming semester, with short workshops designed to cover these components in later semesters to allow hands- on learning. When such virtual lab facilities are not accessible or available, alternative modes of delivery may be considered. Therefore, adapting the pedagogic elements to suit online learning will be warranted.
The present crisis presents an opportunity to reconsider the role of student and teacher in the teaching-learning process and move away from teacher-centric to student-centric pedagogies. The student needs to be considered as an active partner in the process who bears greater responsibility for driving one’s own learning using the diversity of content that is accessible through the internet. The role of the teacher needs to change from active disseminator of content to a facilitator of learning – a person responsible for guiding students to valuable resources, for helping students ask the right questions, for clearing doubts, and for designing assessments to help students identify the gaps in their knowledge and understanding.
The classification of courses based on pedagogical components has already been discussed above (see Course Classification section). Given the nature of the pedagogy, some approaches on the way forward have been recommended below.
Theory Focused Courses
The theory-heavy courses are relatively easy to manage. An upgraded course outline that clearly lays down the objectives for each module and session, maps the readings to each session, and provides guiding questions can act as a self-study unit. A good selection of study material available freely on the internet (open source) or via library website (e-resources) will ease transition to distance learning. Moving beyond textbooks or text heavy readings to visually engaging content (short videos, illustrative guides, podcasts, etc.) can improve student engagement. The teachers can also record short videos explaining the concepts, and the classroom session can be used to discuss the interconnections among concepts and their complex applications, i.e. a flipped classroom model. (Refer previous section on T&L Strategy)
|HEIs across India can identify the technology and bundle the requirements to identify cost- effective procurement with organisations that provide virtual laboratory experience.|
Courses Involving Laboratory or Studio Work
Lab work focused courses are a norm in Science, Engineering, and certain streams in Medicine. Studio work is most common in Design and Architecture. Such courses often have theory sessions integrated with lab or workshop activities. The following options can be explored:
Courses Involving Field Work
Much of the field work will remain suspended due to COVID-19-related restrictions. Even though the curfews have been lifted, the risk of travelling to sites for field work remains high, for researchers, as well as participants, or curfews could be reimposed in areas with high/rising infection numbers. In such cases, possibilities of accomplishing field work via virtual interactions and site visits can be considered. The following options may be considered:
Clinical Courses and Moot Courts (for Law)
At present, there are a plethora of clinical courses that have been shifted online. While the challenges associated with virtual interactions remain, under current circumstances, this seems to be the only viable model. This process can be facilitated by:
|The institutions may consider utilising free or reasonably charged MOOCs available on a diversity multiple (e.g. Swayam, Coursera, NPTEL, EdX, etc.).|
Practical Courses Requiring Physical Examination (Medicine)
While some medical students may actually engage in COVID-19 Wards as frontline warriors, the others may continue their medical field training through:
Utlisation of MOOCs
Depending upon their individual circumstances7, the institutions may consider utilising free or reasonably charged MOOCs available on multiple platforms (e.g. Swayam, Coursera, NPTEL, EdX, etc.) for course delivery. A select committee can invite area faculty and students to suggest high quality courses available online, evaluate the options, and suggest the top course(s) on one or more platforms that can be oﬀered during the semester and are eligible for credits during the semester. While utilising MOOCs, three areas to be considered will be:
Teaching presents a major challenge in distance mode for faculty. Course assessment requires an additional layer of consideration. The following pose additional challenges and should be considered while planning the overall assessment strategy of the institution.
Various formats which can be explored to conduct assessments:
Given the limitations of certain formats, the faculty should consider the least common denominator while giving the assignments.
|Given the limitations of certain formats, the faculty should consider the least common denominator while giving the assignments.|
Continuous assessment with a greater focus on learning rather than grading is likely to be more effective. Peer feedback and interaction over asynchronous platforms like Facebook groups or Piazza which provide threaded discussions could support course instructors in such continuous assessment. This can be accomplished with minimal technical support but the change required in the culture of the classroom will be significant. The present hierarchical relationship between teacher and students, and the absence of free interaction in most classrooms could translate to lesser interactions even in online modes. On the other hand, once established in any course successfully, the same tools can be utilised to enrich student learning and engagement even when students return to campus.
Following areas should be considered while planning the continuous assessments:1. Type of assessments allowed or restricted: Which can be included and what components need to be excluded for different categories of courses and course components 2. Mode of conducting assessments (classroom participation/ online submission) 3. Protocols regarding submission
|Continuous assessment with a greater focus on learning rather than grading is likely to be more effective.|
Mid-term and end-term examinations, the most common modes of assessment, will require synchronisation of start and end time which is challenging to achieve in the present circumstances. Also, ensuring the desired examination etiquettes and ethics while operating in an exam-from-home model will require technological intervention. Therefore, based on the feasibility and cost-benefit analysis done by an institution, the following options can be explored for remote examinations:
This will allow replicating a sit-down examination with the required restriction on ensuring ethics. However, this will be subject to a cost-benefit analysis based on the regulatory requirements, the mandatory nature of examinations defined by UGC, the guidelines on physical exams, and corresponding costs and risk exposure.
This will need to be designed with greater focus on practical application of theory which tests the students on their ability to apply the concepts learned. The take-home examination or assignments cannot be designed in a similar manner as the routine, in-class examinations. The faculty members will need to create questions or tasks that cannot be copied from the internet and may be diﬃcult for students to copy from each other. For example, based on specific, pre-decided parameters, the students may be asked to pick one or more organisations, equipment, cases, etc. for analysis. Given that the cases/institutions they choose for the assignment cannot be duplicated, will make mass customisation of assignment possible. As an alternate, the faculty can create a list of cases and assign a unique case to each student. This is more feasible in quantitative courses/assignments but with a little extra effort, can be done for all kinds of courses. The assignments can be processed through anti-plagiarism software (like Turnitin) to ensure that students maintain high ethical standards.
Instead of depending on written submissions, short oral examinations can be scheduled since phone is something most students will have access to.
Instead of grading at the end of the course, continuous assessments may be a better option under present circumstances. Even in continuous assessments, focus should be on learning instead of grading.
The following areas should be considered to design the examination methodology:1.Mode of conducting assessments (from the above mentioned options) 2. Protocols regarding submission
|The take-home examination or assignments cannot be designed in a similar manner as the routine, in-class examinations.|
Even traditionally, for thesis proposals/defence, several institutions have allowed virtual presentations. Either the student is presenting virtually or one or more of Thesis Advisors or Examiners join remotely (especially when they are based outside India). This practice can be made an acceptable and standardised mode of defending thesis proposal or thesis across all institutions.
Students’ social and cultural life outside classrooms is a key part of institutional life across the world.
However, given the physical restrictions during a pandemic of this nature (COVID-19) physical formats of extra-curricular activities will not be feasible. Therefore, it is important to identify online activities which can replicate the experience and learnings for the students. Social media can further facilitate communication within student communities and beyond, making it possible to share new thoughts, perspectives, and ideas. Students can explore the potential of numerous virtual platforms, becoming part of student clubs or councils. Multiple events can be conducted in online format, bringing together students with similar academic and personal interests. The main objective is to remain as proactive as possible, and to maintain a sense of ‘normalcy’ under extraordinary circumstances. Depending on the objective to be achieved, the following can be considered for implementation:
Respite from academic pursuits
Student body bonding
|Multiple events can be conducted in online format, bringing together students with similar academic and personal interests.|
Given the limited activities possible, the focus can be more on building a student network across institutions and engaging in dialogues to plan extra-curricular activity based events and collaborations for a time post the coronavirus disruption.
|Course instructors are a very important and active link between the students and institution and hence, it is necessary that they facilitate interactions with students.|
During a course, students often interact with the course instructors outside class hours. Much of this is formalised in the form of designated oﬃce hours but exchange of emails and informal chats are also common.
The present situation has taken the face-to-face interactions out of the picture. Further, the students now do not have physical access to their friends on campus and may often be struggling in isolation. Some may be restricted by space and family members, as opposed to a hostel room and free access to libraries and reading rooms, while some may be engaged in family responsibilities. Some may be emotionally and financially under duress due to an earning family member rendered jobless by lockdown and economic turmoil, while others may have family members going out to support essential services like hospitals, sanitization, etc. and exposed to higher risk of catching infection.
Course instructors are a very important and active link between the students and institution and hence, it is necessary that they facilitate interactions with students for academic or non-academic support required in the form of discussions (notwithstanding the physical, psychological, and financial challenges they themselves might be facing, for which institutional management needs to create support structures). To facilitate this the following two systems should be put in place:
The faculty can provide 30-60-minute slots during the day when students can directly call them either individually or in group calls on media such as WhatsApp to discuss their challenges. One can expect the themes to move beyond the subjects being taught and involve mental and emotional challenges being faced by the students. While most teachers are not trained to help in such situations, they can support by actively listening to their students. Even without suggesting any solutions (in fact, they should refrain from suggesting any solutions and guide the students to the institution counsellors), such outlets that allow students to engage in open discussions should help and also contribute to better learning for students and healthier classroom interactions. The students should also be able to access the faculty for academic challenges being faced, given the constraints of online learning. Faculty oﬃce hours can take place in the following formats –
The institutions can create a formal mentorship programme for the students involving faculty members and senior students in case of junior batches under their guidance. Such mentorship should focus on providing students with a social circle, helping them in understanding institutional academic culture and norms, and supporting them in transition from school to institutional life even when working off campus. This minimal guidance and support will go a long way in ensuring that students can adjust to a new environment with ease.
It is recommended that mentorship assignments are put in place formally, and mentor-mentee discussions are recorded and developed into an action plan, which is shared with the mentee. These discussions can be tracked using the following template:
|Mentor-Mentee Discussion Summary|
|Follow-up of Previous Discussion|
|Open Concern Areas|
|The institutions can create a formal mentorship programme for the students involving faculty members and senior students.|
Learning Management System (LMS)
As all interactions move into the online format, the number of e-interactions and emails can get challenging to manage and monitor, and thereby make the entire online learning process overwhelming for the students and faculty. Therefore, to streamline interactions and exchange of information, HEIs should consider the use of Learning Management Systems for all academic activities including:
A consistent, institution-wide usage of such tools can minimise transaction efforts and streamline dissemination of information, as well as, delivery of academic content. The recordings of online or physical sessions should be uploaded on websites like YouTube, Vimeo etc. and links to each video should be updated in the relevant sessions in the course outlines placed on LMS to allow students seamless access to this content.
Several paid options are available for LMS such as TalentLMS or Adobe Captivate Prime, but some free ones are also available such as Google Classrooms and Piazza. Moodle is one of the popular LMS tools utilised.
Technology – Software
To facilitate smooth online classroom sessions, it is critical to identify a software which is collaborative in nature, and enables effective online teaching and learning. Some of the commonly used platforms include:
HEIs could consider the following as the criteria for selecting the LMS:
|To streamline interactions and exchange of information, HEIs should consider the use of Learning Management Systems.|
Beyond the above mentioned points, HEIs need to take into consideration some additional features which may be essential to operationalise online classrooms. The following parameters may be used to perform a comparative analysis to make their choice of software:
Software Parameter Analysis
|Scalability & Accessibility||Can this be accessed on a web browser?|
|What is the limit on the number of participants?|
|Can we dial in from the phone?|
|Classroom Discipline||Can the faculty mute all the participants?|
|Can participants unmute themselves?|
|Can a participant remove another participant from the session without consent?|
|Can the student participants mute the faculty without consent?|
|Can participants scribble on the whiteboard, or erase what has been written by the faculty?|
|Collaboration||Can participants share their screen?|
|Can the online session have breakout sessions with smaller groups of students?|
|Can the faculty share their screen?|
|Is there a chat feature?|
|Are there additional non-verbal features such as raise hand, go slow, go fast, which can enable participant communication without having to speak?|
|Can the faculty enable certain disabled features for the students on a selective basis?|
|Does it allow assessment & evaluation of students through quizzes, proctored exams etc.?|
|Does the platform give the facility to organise group discussions, activities like project presentations?|
|Can multiple participants share their screens simultaneously?|
|Cost||Does a paid licence need to be procured?|
|Are some of the above mentioned features available only at a certain price?|
|Flexibility||Can the software be integrated with other educational tools such as Polly?|
|Are there features to write equations/math symbols on Whiteboard?|
|Can we import/draw more sophisticated graphs and illustrations ?|
|Can polls be integrated into the software to engage students?|
|Does it oﬀer a student programme monitoring facility?|
|Privacy||Can non-participants start recording without permission?|
|Can participants invite non-class/non-institution members?|
Technology – Hardware
hardware to participate in the online classroom. This would essentially include:
Alternatively having a smartphone/tablet can also ensure access to online classrooms. However, it may be challenging to use for assessments that require typing out long texts.
|To ensure smooth and continuous online classes without any interruptions or ﬂuctuations, continuous and uninterrupted power supply is important.|
To ensure smooth and continuous online classes without any interruptions or fluctuations, continuous and uninterrupted power supply is important. It is important that:
While this will be a function of the power backup implementation in the residences of students and faculty, some additional ways forward are:
Connectivity is key to taking classes online. The following should be key considerations:
Infrastructure & Devices
|High-speed internet connection is important and therefore a high-speed broadband connection should be in place.|
Under present circumstances, the institutions should definitely have an end-term examination. However, for the examination and assessments, they may consider changes in grading policies including changing assessment criteria in certain non-core subjects. The options that can be explored are:
Since the outcomes of these changes will be imprinted on grade cards of all students, these may have long-term implications. Further, regulatory requirements on exceptions and changes allowed for fulfilling degree requirements should be taken into consideration before finalising the policy. Thus, a coordinated effort by institutions and regulators will be required.Attendance
The institutions need to modify the attendance policies. Given the possibility of asynchronous learning and poor connectivity during synchronous sessions leading to students dropping out of sessions, 70-75% attendance mandated by most regulators and institutions may not be feasible. Therefore, institutions should focus more on ensuring effective learning for the students as a measure of a student’s success and not attendance which may not be the right reflection of a student’s participation, given the possible constraints due to personal reasons, health limitations, or lack of infrastructure. To ensure this, the institutions can implement the following three systems as a replacement for attendance:
Student Code of Conduct
Online classrooms are vulnerable to misconduct which may have been controlled under the scope of a physical classroom. This can include:
Two key approaches to ensure e-classroom discipline are:
Technology driven approach
A large part of this can be controlled by enabling technology. Therefore, while identifying the online classroom software, there can be two types of rights – Presenter and Attendee.
|Institutions should focus more on ensuring effective learning for the students as a measure of a student’s success.|
As per default settings, faculty can be provided Presenter rights, and students can be provided Attendee rights. Over and above this, any other participant such as IT/Teaching Associates/Specific Students such as Class Representatives(CR) can be provided additional rights based on faculty authorisation only.
Policy driven approach
While technology can be used to place certain restrictions on the participation of students, some level of flexibility will have to be put in place to ensure collaboration. Therefore, it is important to define the following:
Additionally, the following exercises can help ingrain discipline in the very culture of online classrooms:
|While technology can be used to place certain restrictions on the participation of students, some level of ﬂexibility will have to be put in place to ensure collaboration.|
Faculty Training on E-teaching
In present circumstances, sticking to the predefined course outline and not modifying it to suit online classrooms may prove problematic since a uniform course delivery may not be possible across all constituent colleges. It may be useful to allow individual faculty members certain flexibility in curriculum delivery and even assessment based on the recommendation in the previous sections. However, this will require training all faculty members in curriculum planning and development and involving them in curriculum revision. The Professional Learning Committees can act as a good platform to take such initiative. Also, given the need to move from blackboards to online screen sharing, the faculty across institutions will need to be provided with the right support to enable a smooth transition.
To retain the pedagogy and the curriculum in an online mode, technology will need to be utilised creatively. However, for that, the faculty will need some forms of training:
In addition to this, the following resources or actions may further enable, streamline, and standardise the online teaching methodology of faculty:
|The current generation of students being more tech-savvy can be engaged to support the older faculty.|
Mental Health and Well Being
The current pandemic has caused a lot of emotional duress to people across the nation. This has further aggravated the state of mental stress caused by everyday life in the current century. Additionally, while families have to deal with pay cuts and job losses, they have to engage in work from home, while the children also need access to the resources to study from home. Also, given that students do not have access to the emotional and social network of being on campus, and everyday contact with peers is limited, this may have a negative impact on mental wellness. Under such circumstances, it is important we explore the following mental wellness options:
Access to Counselling
Webinars to create awareness
Informal student interactions
Faculty-Student sharing sessions
Youth aﬀairs virtual programmes for Students
Mitigate ‘V-con fatigue’
|Video-Conferencing has resulted in fatigue and therefore it is important to give students periodic days off to ensure they can recover from the fatigue|
Policy on Classes Commencement
Institutions should plan to open their academic year a week earlier than usual. This extra week can be utilised to test the software and hardware, and help students and faculty members navigate the new digital protocols, SOPs, and spaces (e.g. Moodle, OneDrive, Piazza etc.). The extra week will also help faculty members to take demonstration-classes and students to attend lectures, submit and resolve doubts, upload assignments and receive mock feedback and grades. This is likely to reduce the time spent during the actual semester. The IT department and the library staff can be engaged to take the lead in conducting sessions for students and faculty to help them become familiar with the IT tools being used by the university.
Policy on Data Privacy
Additionally, based on the finalised policy
Also, it is important to work on the technology infrastructure to ensure