COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the world. Every industry has been impacted by it, and the education industry is no exception. Schools and colleges are closed to halt the spread of the pandemic. However, despite such institutions being closed, learning is still happening, thanks to e-learning.
When the lockdown was announced, universities adapted well. They have an able body of students that is well versed with technology. The educators at such universities took the initiative to launch virtual classes. Ironically, students at most universities were more comfortable with learning in a virtual classroom than teachers were teaching in them. When the lockdown was implemented, students had less difficulty transitioning to a virtual learning environment; the only laggards were their professors. Before the lockdown was imposed, many professors had little familiarity with taking classes online; they took longer to adapt to e-learning than students did.
Lockdown has given an impetus to virtual classrooms
Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic e-learning would have never become as popular as it is now. It is solely because of the pandemic that this technology has received an impetus.
While it took a pandemic to make educators in India adopt a virtual learning environment, the measures put in place for the time being provide only a reprieve. Most universities are using ad hoc means to hold classes. They are making do with whatever limited resources they have. Every educator knows they have only found a short term solution that will last at most a few weeks or months. It is not a permanent learning solution, and steps will have to be taken to introduce lasting solutions.
The government is paying attention and knows the challenges educators face. It has taken steps to facilitate education in virtual classrooms using tools such as GPU Dedicated Server and Azure Windows Virtual Desktop etc. For instance, the Indian finance minister announced that the top 100 Indian universities could start having virtual classes. Now that the government has come on board, universities have to move to a more structured way to provide virtual classes. Applications like Zoom have to given way to platforms that are designed for virtual lessons. A few challenges remain, however.
The infrastructure is sufficient yet inadequate
The infrastructure in India is both sufficient yet inadequate to hold virtual classes. Virtual infrastructure has made it possible to stream classes live from a professor home to hundreds of students. In urban areas, the bandwidth is adequate to carry so much data. The drawback is that many college students don’t have digital devices on which they can participate in classes. This is just one problem. The problems don’t end here.
India’s 4G network is robust, but it has considerable gaps as well, especially in rural areas. College students in metropolitan cities enjoy uninterrupted access to high-speed internet; students in rural areas and small towns don’t. In small towns and cities, college students who have laptops cannot access virtual sessions because of poor internet connectivity. There is a second impediment to e-learning. In many parts of India, power is erratic. Nobody knows when electricity will fail or for how long. Hence both poor internet connectivity and erratic electric supply make it hard for virtual classes to become a permanent solution to the problems presented by the pandemic.
There are other challenges as well
Virtual classrooms are blessing at a time when learning in a class could prove fatal. However, they pose many challenges, as well. The entire education system in India is built around a traditional pedagogy. At the heart of this pedagogy is the classroom. Students are expected to sit in a classroom and learn by listening to their professor. While virtual classrooms can replace traditional classes, they cannot replace examination halls.
Students in India have been giving tests in examination halls for centuries. No mechanism can replace examination halls. In an examination hall, students are proctored. They cannot cheat easily. The introduction of virtual classrooms springs the question of whether students can give exams virtually? Most would argue that they cannot, and they would be right. Universities that are holding virtual classes know that they have no way to assess every student fairly. Without a mechanism to fairly assess every student, college education becomes less meaningful.
Despite the shortcoming of virtual classrooms, there have many benefits as well. Once the shortcomings of virtual classrooms are mitigated, their benefits may lead to them becoming even more widely used.
Enrolling more students in a prestigious institute
A traditional classroom can hold at most a few dozen students. Beyond this number, teaching in conventional classrooms becomes unwieldy. India is one of the largest countries in the world and has one of the largest student body populations on earth. The competition to secure a place in top-ranked colleges is fierce. A reason top-ranked universities in India accept so few students is that classes in their facilities make it impractical to teach a more significant number of pupils. With virtual classes, however, a class can be as large as educators want it to be. Yes, the size of virtual classrooms needs to be manageable. Yet teachers can teach a more significant number of students in virtual classes than they can in physical ones.
The government is implementing policies that let colleges enrol a more significant number of students in classes. According to preliminary information, universities can enter as much as 50% more students in virtual classrooms than they could in traditional classrooms. In a country where there is an abundance of talent, but a shortage of space in the top universities, the government’s decision to expand the size of the classroom is right for education. The decision is likely music to the ears of many bright students who aspire to a place in India’s most coveted universities.
Virtual classrooms can enrol a larger student body than traditional classes can. However, the tools being used to conduct virtual classrooms today are half measures. Platforms like Zoom will have to be replaced with systems that are designed to mimic real classes. Such virtual tools exist, and many have several features that give them a leg up even on conventional classrooms.
Edge of dedicated virtual classrooms
A system dedicated to serving as a virtual classroom has many features a temporary solution like Zoom does not. Such a platform lets teachers create notes before class and share them with students. Also, such a system automatically takes attendance and lets students submit assignments.
When it comes to assessing students, such a system has a massive advantage over traditional classrooms. The system is powerful enough to check assignments submitted by students. It can also pinpoint areas in which a student is struggling. Its accuracy rate in understanding students’ weaknesses is very high. Once such a system has identified where a particular student is struggling, it can inform the professor taking the class. When a professor finds that a lot of students are facing trouble in identical areas, he or she can explain them more thoroughly.
There are many virtual classroom systems out there, but most are yet to capture the attention of educators. To make these products visible to colleges and universities, their creators will have to employ the services of a PR agency that can tell their story. Such an agency should be able to articulate the value proposition of a digital classroom. It must be able to share with educators why the platform will help make learning and teaching easier and more effective. Such a PR agency should understand digital marketing as much traffic arrives at sites through such channels.
With the help of a pr agency that understands digital marketing, a company that develops e-learning solutions has a good chance of bringing it to the attention of educators. The Indian government has taken steps that encourage educators to adopt virtual classroom technology. This is an opportune time for those who create such platforms to bring them to the attention of colleges and universities.
Pooja comes along with an extensive in the PR industry. Prior to Media Mantra, Pooja was associated with a few other PR Agencies and possesses International experience in the Communication Industry. She has also been associated with United Nations Youth Association, Australia as the Editor of News & Notes earlier in her career