Educating in Emergency!

As I write this article, there already is great confusion and uncertainty about the reopening of schools and colleges for this academic year. Various educational institutions are in dilemma on how to continue their courses/education at this time of emergency. There is massive pressure from EdTech groups to pursue educational institutions to go fully online. Many institutional managements are not only happily welcoming this but also forcing it in their institutions (without waiting for the Government Guidelines), and I am afraid that in doing so, the very fabric of “learning” is being compromised as the desperation is out of institutional sustainability than the learning itself. In addition to that, in this process, the most important stakeholders remain neglected. Yes, you guessed it right! I’m talking about the students, who may be forced to change their mode of learning which they have not signed up for.

Are we prepared for the major shift from regular classroom teaching-learning to Online Education of Distance Learning on a large scale?

Firstly, there is no common understanding among people to say what Online education is. (I have dealt this in my previous article “What is Online Education: Defining online education”). Online education can mean anything to anyone. Rustom Kerawalla, chairman of the Ampersand Group — a leading school management services provider in India and abroad — in his interview to News18 correctly points out the major shortfall in an understanding of online education in India. He said, “As of now, the online education sector currently is not guided by any standard norms or regulations by the government. Further, the definition and framework of online education are lacking and in some cases, online education even includes teachers sharing worksheets and study material on WhatsApp and training sessions on Skype“(Agha, 2020).

Secondly, Indian Telecom Infrastructure is not at all prepared for this major shift to Online Learning. As per survey report of one of the companies specialising in the analysis of higher education institutions around the world, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), connectivity and signal issues as the most prevailing problems faced by students while attending online classes (PTI, 2020). Apart from this, an electrical power supply is a very crucial factor along with reliable internet connectivity when it comes to online education. Unfortunately, both of these are not available to many. Especially students in rural and semi-urban areas. According to the 2017-18 National Sample Survey report on education, only 8% of all households with members aged between five and 24 have both a computer and an internet connection (Kundu, 2020). Also, the requirement of storage space (hard disc, cloud storage, etc) to download and store study materials which can be accessible for further study purposes may not be affordable for many along with increasing data pack usage. Not forgetting the frustrating experiences of accessing/downloading study materials over the slow internet. Surely many students will miss out on this.

Finally, the Digital Andragogy. The common mistake that most of us do is to equate online technology with Online Education. Remember, Online technology is just a tool, a tool to deliver information. We need to understand Digital Andragogy – the art, science and philosophy of Online Learning (Sheffield, 2015). We need a Digital Transformation in this area of Online Education. Besides, no matter how appealing its flexibility and convenience is, online education is not for everyone. Everyone has their preferences, learning styles, focus span, and different degree of discipline or lack of it. Not all are suited to online learning (Kearsley, 2002). They may use technology to enhance their learning, but to do the entire programme online may not be possible for most of them.

So, are we prepared for the major shift to Online Education? the answer is NO. Moving entirely from Residential mode of teaching-learning to Online mode of Distance Learning is not an easy transition and will surely not be possible in a very short span and is definitely not fair on students who did not sign up for it. This is not a solution at all during this Crisis.

Is there any other way to continue education in this crisis without making big transitions from Residential to Distance Learning mode?

In my previous article on What is Online Education?, I have introduced you  Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT), here I want to present it as a solution for Educating in Emergency. “The primary objective in these circumstances is not to re-create a robust educational ecosystem but rather to provide temporary access to instruction and instructional supports in a manner that is quick to set up and is reliably available during an emergency or crisis.” ERT is basically responding to the situation, it is a way of thinking about delivery modes, methods, and media, tailor-made for the rapidly specific needs and limitations of technological resources ( Hodges et al., 2020). 

Last month I happened to attend Online Course on Educating in Emergency by ICETE Academy. That course offered some suggestions and opportunities to dialogue about these questions that we are dealing with here. So I am going to share a few of those thoughts and guidelines here, I hope it will help you all (Oxenham, 2020).

  1. Do something! The first thing to do in an emergency shut down of your institution is to do something.  Silence and inaction are not alternatives.
  2. Think of Communication! When Face-to-face communication is not possible, the first step in an emergency is to identify the best alternative communication lines and to reflect on the kind of communication that is appropriate.
  3.  Minimalize Teaching! Teaching in emergency situations means stripping down our courses to the bare minimum as the best possible compromise.
  4.  Be Realistic! In our commitment to maintaining the quality of education, in emergency situations, we can fall into the trap of keeping our standards too high and our regulations too firm. 

These are simply four suggestions, to begin with. To tap on Open Education Resources (OER) and to collaborate with other educational institutions and other experienced faculty members of the field is the way forward. Finally, when it comes to evaluation, remember you are trying to respond to the emergency, it is a temporary solution until you survive the emergency. Do not compare this with your regular classroom teaching-learning or even with an Online Education of Distance Learning. These sorts of comparisons will not provide any real value. You need to be practical and realistic when it comes to the evaluation part of it.

In my conclusion, firstly, I want to say that major shift from regular teaching-learning to Online Education is not a good move at this point of time as we are not prepared for such a time as this. Secondly, we need to respond to the current crisis with a quick and sensitive response. Keep in mind that this is a temporary situation and not a permanent crisis. Thirdly, use the OERs and collaborate with the experts to avoid reinventing the wheel. Finally, do not fall into the trap of comparing ERT with regular classroom teaching-learning or Online education.
I hope this article is helpful to think about how to educate an emergency effectively.

Happy Learning!

Poll: How are you educating in an emergency?
The COVID-19 is affecting different areas of the world in different ways.  Educational institutions are also very different from each other and will be responding differently. The purpose of this poll is to try to capture some of this difference and share ideas. Kindly participate in this poll and let me know how you are meeting this need of educating in an emergency.
Click here – How are you Educating in Emergency? to register your response.

References

Agha, Eram. Learning Rebooted: Online Education During Covid-19 Lockdown Puts Spotlight on India’s Digital Divide. 3 Apr. 2020, www.news18.com/news/india/learning-rebooted-online-education-during-covid-19-lockdown-puts-spotlight-on-indias-digital-divide-2563265.html.

Gopinathan, C.P., and K. Ramachandran. Comment: Higher Education Post-COVID-19. 14 Apr. 2020, www.thehindu.com/education/comment-higher-education-post-covid-19/article31341564.ece.

PTI. COVID-19: Indian Internet Infra Not Prepared for Shift to Online Teaching-Learning, Says QS Report. 21 Apr. 2020, economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/covid-19-indian-internet-infra-not-prepared-for-shift-to-online-teaching-learning-says-qs-report/articleshow/75269679.cms?from=mdr.

Kundu, Protiva. Indian Education Can’t Go Online – Only 8% of Homes with Young Members Have Computer with Net Link. 5 May 2020, scroll.in/article/960939/indian-education-cant-go-online-only-8-of-homes-with-school-children-have-computer-with-net-link.

Mishra, Shivangi. Why Online Learning Is Not for Everyone – Times of India. 13 Apr. 2020, timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/why-online-learning-is-not-for-everyone/articleshow/75121377.cms.

Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India. Government of India, Nov. 2019, mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/publication_reports/KI_Education_75th_Final.pdf.

Sheffield, Rachel. “Digital Andragogy: A Richer Blend of Initial Teacher Education in the 21st Century.” Academia.edu, www.academia.edu/19766478/Digital_andragogy_A_richer_blend_of_initial_teacher_education_in_the_21st_century.

Kearsley , Greg. “Is Online Learning for Everybody?” Educational Technology, vol. 42, no. 1, 2002, pp. 41–44., www.jstor.org/stable/44428721.

Hodges, Charles, et al. “The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning.” EDUCAUSE Review, Mar. 2020, er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning.

Oxenham, Marvin. “Educating in Emergency.” ICETE Academy. Online Course: Educating in Emergency, May 2020, icete.academy/course/view.php?id=98.

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About the Author:

Anand Deshbhratar is a Faculty member in Centre for Global Leadership Development, Bangalore and Credential Licensed Minister of MDC of South India Assemblies of God. Currently working as a capacity of e-Learning Programmes Coordinator. He was originally trained in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering and worked as a lecturer in Department of E&Tc Engineering at Institute of Technology (2009-2014). Moved to Bangalore in 2014 to pursue his higher studies in Theology. Recently, he has celebrated his decade long journey in the field of education and EduTech.

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