The onslaught of online teaching-learning practices that entailed the COVID19 outbreak in recent times has outvied the traditional pedagogy of a physical classroom experience both from temporal and spatial contexts. The usual classroom environment has been replaced by a digital space where many of the teaching-learning assumptions are being questioned every day. It has brought new issues, challenges, and opportunities to the omphalos of educational praxis. At best, it has enthroned the learner at the centre and compelled the teacher to negotiate the curriculum through digital intermediaries and applications that were hitherto unknown to both. While the virtual reality has become new normal and opened up avenues for action research, it has once again startled many to the core. Being an abettor of open and distance education since the 1990s, for me, it was a long battle won at last. A battle that we lost innumerable times when our colleagues and fellow educationists vacillated the reliability and validity of teaching, learning and degrees earned through ‘distance mode’. Even after the establishment of an open university almost in every state, the government used to give public notices announcing that degrees obtained through distance education are equally ‘valid’. COVID19 has pushed all those egotisms to the periphery and firmly entrenched the online education system that is going to be the new paradigm for years to come, perhaps much after this pandemic.
While the traditional classroom is seen as a powerful space where the physical presence of the faculty is set as the apotheosis of knowledge, the online classroom has made the field more democratic. I am now au courant of the fact that unless and until I make the content attractive, relevant, and rich, the audience might just occlude me from his/her reality and I would be facing more blank screens (when students’ cameras are off). I can no longer afford to unleash the drudgery of monologues on the students and as such I have to deliver the content from with a design thinking approach where graphics, narratives, and the platform (e.g. Zoom) are all in sync with the theme of my session. The art and the aesthetics of audio-visual contents that were long considered the tinge of the media and journalism experts have now become the existential survival skill for the online faculty. The jury is out and the potential outcome of my delivering classes online over the last few months will perhaps reiterate an apophthegm that I heard from one of my senior colleagues — ‘to teach or not to teach, do whatever you like in class but never bore your students’. That fulmination looms much larger today for any teacher when both the dramaturgy and the stage have gone virtual and if something goes wrong it might even go ‘viral’.
As a researcher, while my field teams are cooling their heels at home, online classes have opened up an enormous space for conducting digital ethnography or Netnographic study from the comforts of our homes. That is an added advantage that would have perhaps remained in the penumbra, had we not been forced into this homebound exile by the pandemic. The Socratic classroom has taken a backseat for now and the flip-class has taken a lead in enriching students’ engagement and active learning at different levels. We are now more conscious of the difficulties, digital divides, affordability, and access issues in connectivity and the differentiated learning preferences of our disciples. That is a new nirvana for me to suspire for.
Dr K M Baharul Islam
Dean (Academics) and Professor (Communications)
Chair, Center of Excellence in Public Policy and Government