Democratisation of higher education

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Democratisation of higher education

Wednesday, 16 March 2022 | Raghavendra P Tiwari

Democratisation of higher education

For the learners, digitalisation powered flexibility, adaptability, and personalisation make learning a joyful enterprise, in both online and traditional classroom learning, says  Raghavendra P Tiwari

The US Education Secretary in the 1960s, John Gardner, once wondered, can we be equal and excellent at the same time. Since then, co-existential frames of access, equity, quality and affordability in education have been widely debated. Such an all-encompassing education system needs to ensure access to quality education to all knowledge seekers at their doorstep and at an affordable cost for creating a large pool of effective learners endowed with domain knowledge, soft and hard skills and the ability to communicate across cultures, time and space. The student community, especially in India, is a heterogeneous group with a great diversity of needs and requires a variety of formats of learning, pace, style choices of learning, and other associated forms of flexibility.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can help us a great deal in this regard as it is fast emerging as an enabler for bringing innovative disruptions in higher education and is creating new narratives of learning. Technological advancement in the modern world is so fast and relevant that higher education institutions (HEIs) that are unable to make use of technological disruptions in higher education to equip themselves to embrace the changes happening in the teaching and learning processes will lose their relevance.

Digitalisation of higher education is a crucial factor in this context as it helps create responsive administration, multidisciplinary curriculum, appropriate pedagogies (experiential learning) and real-time performance evaluation in commensuration with learning outcomes, effective communication, inter-connectedness, seamless availability of e-learning resources even in remotest rural areas, innovations and entrepreneurship, and collaboration and outreach. Moreover, digitalisation will help those learners who cannot be in the classroom and those who are differently-abled.

Digitalisation in Indian higher education began with the production of quality e-contents and courseware by Electronic and Multimedia Resource Centres (EMRC) under Consortium for Educational Communication and their dissemination through 24x7 Vyas higher Education TV channel and thirty-two SWAYAMPRABHA DTH channels. This digitalisation process has been accelerated during the last decade by the Ministry of Education through several initiatives related to access to online courses, quality digital academic content, academic research, and institutional administrative practices.

For online courses and access to online content, Massive Open Online Courses through SWAYAM platform, National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning, e-PG Pathshala (curriculum-based interactive e-contents), e-Acharya (a portal to host all e-contents developed through projects under NME-ICT), FOSSE (Free/Libre and Open Source Software for Education) and SAKSHAT (a one-stop education portal) are available.

e-Shodh Sindhu (Consortia for higher education e-resources), e-ShodhGangotri (a digital repository of thesis and dissertations), Shodh Shudhhi (plagiarism detection software),  National Digital Library (a digital repository of vast academic content) are databases and tools made available to further academic research.

Similarly, to facilitate skill development and innovation through virtual learning environment in science, engineering, technology and design development, e-Yantra (labs for training in embedded systems), e-Kalpa (digital learning environment for design), Virtual Labs (Web-enabled experiments designed for remote – operation), Spoken Tutorial (Tutorials in IT application), SOS Tools (software and simulation packages), Text Transcription of Video Contents, OSCAR (Open Source Courseware’s Animation Repository) are available. Additionally, VIDWAN (a digital database of experts), is made available to promote expertise sharing and collaboration among academics and institutions.

Digital academic management is ensured by the National Academic Depository through DigiLocker (for ensuring 24x7 availability of all awards of students in digital form) and Baadal (NME-ICT cloud development and deployment of eGov applications for academic needs), and SAMARTH project is improving the efficiency of administrative, financial and evaluation related activities by reducing response time and promoting ease of doing education. All these efforts have made a solid foundation necessary for creating an ecosystem of digitalisation in higher education. These initiatives will also be of immense use to the proposed digital university that is expected to be established on the University 4.0 model.

The digitalisation of higher education witnessed a steep rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, compelling HEIs to resort to online teaching using LMS. It is evident now that higher education will witness an extensive use of digitalisation in course design, practice-driven teaching, research, assessment, and all other aspects of teaching and learning to create a next-generation learning environment.

For the learners, digitalisation powered flexibility, adaptability, and personalisation make learning a joyful enterprise, in both online and traditional classroom learning. Through technology-enabled flipped classes, virtual reality sessions, virtual labs, digital models and simulations, gamification, e-documents, e-text and reference books, online assignments, apprenticeships and vast and open educational resources, students can have engaging learning experiences.

To facilitate the impending transition, HEIs need to use appropriate technology for building a credible ecosystem that improves learning outcomes and provides personalisation. This can be accomplished by using ICT, embracing hybrid learning models, building industry associations and developing 21st-century life skills and competencies. The HEIs continuously need to upgrade their curricula, course contents, pedagogy, evaluation, integrate problem-solving research with academics, conduct research in the digital environment with peers across the globe and adapt modular models. HEIs also need to turn to learner-centric approaches revolving around soft and domain- specific skills crucial for enhancing learners’ employability. They need to embrace hybrid learning models comprising offline, online, on-labs, onsite platforms and include industry, skill-hubs and unorganised learning centres in rural India by building industry-academia collaboration and outreach activities.

Implementation of National Education Policy-2020 cannot be thought of without the digitalisation of higher education. Capacity building of faculty members in digitalisation technologies must be carried out for empowering them to embrace the advancement that the teaching-learning process is witnessing.  However, funding will be a great barrier to the effective digitalisation of higher education since large-scale investments in hardware, software and in providing high bandwidth internet connectivity in remote and rural areas is needed to create a robust digital architecture required for an all-encompassing, all-inclusive and flexible learning ecosystem. Overcoming these roadblocks should be paramount for the long-term success of the ongoing process of the digitalisation of higher education. This success will ensure that the screen savvy tendency of gen-next is harnessed in the right earnest and that their dwindling memory span is also enhanced. Educational planners and leaders need to appreciate this and take responsibility for the digitalisation of their respective institutions. Those HEIs not becoming part and parcel of this process and thus not keeping themselves digitally ready will, in fact, be doing a great disservice to the learning system of the nation.

The writer is Prof Raghavendra P Tiwari,Vice-Chancellor at Central University of Punjab, Bathinda


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