Most of the universities in the world offer on-campus degrees, especially bachelor’s degrees. There are a few universities that offer bachelor's degrees online.
However, many world-renowned universities offer online certificate courses and training programmes. With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global higher education landscape has dramatically changed and on campus universities around the world have moved their classroom teaching online. Now, classrooms are unoccupied, canteens and study spaces have no student noise, and students are not seen reading in the library. If this unprecedented situation continues for a long time, students and universities may start to consider online learning as a great alternative to on-campus learning. But we must not forget that not even the best online course can fully replace the personal contact with a teacher, or the human relationships that develop in a group. So, face-to-face classes cannot be replaced with online classes.
In Bangladesh, where both public and private universities have followed the traditional classroom education with little to no online education infrastructure in place, most universities had still managed to shift their classes online within two months of the first reported Covid-19 death on 8 March 2020 in the country. Teachers are facing problems in student engagement, proctoring exams, and assessment. Also, students are facing problems by struggling with an uninterrupted internet connection, internet speed, feeling isolated, and focusing on the screen for a long time.
Now, decoding and understanding these issues will help universities develop strategies for delivering lessons more efficiently, ensuring a smooth learning journey for students. The first problem is with long lectures. Students never like long lectures as it becomes difficult for them to concentrate throughout the lecture. Freire (2017) commented on such teaching as the students are considered empty vessels into which the teacher pours her/his knowledge. The working memory of the human brain enables a part of the whole information in the lecture to be processed into long-term memory. In public universities in Bangladesh, class lecture time is 50-60 minutes and in private universities, it is 80-90 minutes. Lectures should be limited to 15-20 minutes. Rest of the class time teachers will play the role of a facilitator and engage their students in learning. Teachers can divide the whole class into small groups and engage students in group discussion and ask investigative questions. Teachers can ask students to watch their video lectures and to read course materials before joining online classes. Instead of relying primarily on textbooks, teachers can direct students to different sources available on the internet, and students can develop research skills by exploring online content on their own and acquire skills necessary for lifelong learning. It is the responsibility of a teacher to create a perfect learning environment that takes the students as active learners in class. As active learners, students instead of just learning the subject matter, learn how to learn and they develop competency skills such as critical thinking, innovation, and communication. Thus, teachers can overcome problems in student engagement by reducing lecture time and creating a learning environment.
Traditional assessment does not help students in learning rather encourages students in memorization. In many universities in Bangladesh teachers assess students based on one exam and a few class tests. One exam with 75% weight creates fear among students for failure in the course or getting low grade. From this fear students adopt unfair means in exam. Students rely on memorization to answer exam questions. This kind of question also makes students use unfair methods in exams. Universities may think of buying expensive proctoring software to control cheating in exam. However, such software cannot completely control cheating. In contrast, if students become active learners they do not cheat. Universities can introduce two midterm exams and increase weight of formative assessment. Formative assessment is referred to as tests for learning. It begins with diagnostic assessment, indicating what is already known and what gaps may exist in skills or knowledge. Formative assessments may be questions, tasks, quizzes or more formal assessments. Teachers can use many formative assessment digital tools such as Edulastic, Flipgrid, Google Classroom Question Tool, Quizlet, and Google Forms.
There is a challenging pedagogical issue regarding the best way to educate undergraduates in online science and engineering laboratory courses. Regarding this issue, much work has been done. Recently, some universities have come out with alternative solutions to physical labs by using advanced technology (J. D. Loike and M. Stoike, 2020).
Online education is primarily Internet-enabled learning. Uninterrupted connection and high-speed internet are needed. Networks and services need to be affordable, for both universities and individuals, if they are to be used effectively. The cost of basic broadband access is about BDT 80 per Mbps which many students cannot afford. Internet is slow (5 Mbps) and the connection is unreliable. This speed meets the requirement for audio but for audio and video together 8-10 Mbps is required. Without an uninterrupted internet connection for students or teachers, there can be a lack of continuity in learning for students. This is detrimental to the education process. Policies for the internet in education need to focus mainly on the challenges of enabling access and facilitating effective use of access.
Introducing active learning paradigm, access to stable internet with required speed and affordable cost to students and teachers, and changing traditional assessment methods, we can achieve quality education through online classes.
The writer is Vice Chancellor, East West University. Email: [email protected]