POST TIME: 17 July, 2020 08:16:45 PM
Online teaching: A new dimension in higher education
Online communication guidelines, such as netiquette and class specific requirements can help establish a secure online environment that is free from personal attacks but full of meaningful and informative discussions
M. M. Shahidul Hassan

Online teaching: A new dimension in higher education

When the government of Bangladesh announced the closure of educational institutions due to Covid-19 pandemic, most of the private universities and a few public ones decided to conduct classes online.  The sudden switch to online teaching from classroom teaching was not welcomed by a large section of students, as students moved from towns to villages. As the closure continues and students find themselves in a state of long-term uncertainty, they have no choice but to choose for online classes. Many universities have the idea that online classes will not last long, so they have instructed their teachers to take classes using free online platforms and tools. Universities also have assumed that online teaching will be better managed if teachers only know online platforms and tools for themselves, and students know how to learn or engage with the materials. This will have a major impact on quality education. 

Universities should conduct multiple workshops on online teaching, learning and assessment so that teachers can succeed in online teaching. Training should not only focus on learning online tools. It will also be on how to acquire the skills to translate classroom teaching materials in ways that can make students understand in the online environment because they cannot rely on eye contact or other facial cues to determine whether students are understanding and are showing interest in a lesson. 

Online teaching is not a replica of a syllabus designed for face-to-face teaching. The courses need to be redesigned and delivered as per the demand for online education. Youths not only in developed countries but also in Bangladesh are using cell phones, tablet computers, social network technologies such as Facebook and Twitter for this. 

Even when situation becomes normal, some interest and enthusiasm will be created among teachers to use the online tools and platforms. Teachers will want to teach some courses online and use online tools related to auto-generated grades and statistical analysis. A full-semester competition by online teaching and learning will also give idea about which method classroom teaching or online teaching works best for students. Educationists around the world are still skeptical about the quality of learning outcomes from online teaching because of improper set up for a solid technological infrastructure, misuse of intellectual property rights, tendency to conduct online courses using ordinary software, no face-to-face interaction, social isolation, easy accomplishment of plagiarism and cheating and focusing on theory rather than practice. 

Human beings have the need to feel connected. Therefore, a learning community is vital to student learning. The researchers say that when students consider the learning environment to be safe, inviting and helpful, they are more engaged with their learning, and the experience becomes more enjoyable. An online teacher has very little control over the physical environment, but a classroom teacher has this control. However, recently many learning management systems have been developed to create an effective online learning environment. Online communication guidelines, such as netiquette and class specific requirements can help establish a secure online environment that is free from personal attacks but full of meaningful and informative discussions.

In classroom teaching interactions such as between student and content, student and student, and student and course teacher take place and all these interactions happen naturally, as students ask each other questions, listen to each other’s comments, and build rapport through frequent contact. Academics are still not satisfied with the success of implementing the recommendations of online proponents regarding these three types of interactions. Various synchronous and asynchronous tools are continuing to develop that increase the possibilities for interaction in the online classroom. The real time communication helps students in decreasing feelings of isolation and increasing a sense of community in the online classroom.

The most common synchronous tools used in online education are chat, second life, video conferencing, built-in screen sharing and breakout rooms for group interaction and discussion, etc. Coursework and communications delivered via email, blogs, pre-recorded videos, webinars, online discussion boards, and messages posted on community forums are perfect examples of asynchronous online learning. Depending on the situation, teachers can either make the learning environment safe by asking online students to report their prior knowledge just to the teacher or make it interactive by asking them to share and discuss with peers.

Most of the universities in the world conduct classroom teaching, but they use Learning Management System (LMS) or Content Management System (CMS) software for their official works, programmes for adult and financially disadvantaged people, training and short courses. Can universities in Bangladesh avoid using such software-based management system? Recently University Grants Commission of Bangladesh has asked all universities to introduce a new education system called Outcome Based Education (OBE). It is different from our existing Traditional Education (TE) system in terms of teaching and performance evaluation of students. Unlike in TE, a course teacher in OBE will have to monitor academic progress of his/her students individually. Software is required for storing and analyzing data.

Our universities can use LMS or CMS for student advising and tuition fees and students’ grade submission. In addition to teaching in classrooms, universities will be able to offer reading courses, audit courses, make-up classes, remedial courses in English and Math, training and short courses for professionals online through software-based management system. Free learning resources available globally including Coursera, Harvard Business Publishing, MOOCS, etc., can also be used and credit should be given to the students for picking-up such courses. The government needs to do something to ensure uninterrupted internet connection. The experience of this online teaching during Covid-19 pandemic will increase the use of software in the activities of the university in future, and Bangladesh will gradually enter the digital age.

The writer is Vice Chancellor, East West University. Email: vc@ewubd.edu