This Pandemic Is Disintegrating Traditional Pedagogy

Farid Ahmad

11 June, 2020 12:00 AM printer

This Pandemic Is Disintegrating Traditional Pedagogy

In 2012, Sebastian Thrun —former professor of Computer Science at Stanford Universityand chairman of a for-profit educational organization Udacity — boldly prophesied that traditional education would be upended by massive, open, online courses. As his dream did not come true over the years, as few students successfully completed online courses, Thrun decided to end the program in 2017 and paid his attention to vocational training.

Then an unprecedented tiny creature born in Wuhan has set off its ominous journey around the world boarding human sneeze and cough droplet chariots and ultimately caused a global pandemic, disrupting society more suddenly than any previous pandemic or battlecould. As a consequence, like other countries’ campuses, all our educational institutes remain closed since March 17, 2020 in an attempt to contain the spread of this pandemic. Henceforth, country’s 40 million students from pre-primary to tertiary levels are in a cloud of uncertainty.

The days are elapsing with no immediate sustainable solution to this pandemic outbreak. If the pandemic persists for long period and the closure of campuses prolongs, it will not only have a short-term impact on the continuity of learning but also create unbecoming economic and societal consequences in the long run. At worst it could threaten the right to education.

At this moment, nobody knows when the campus will reopen. Under these circumstances, online education may be the mainstay in academia and can desperately assume the leading role that Thrun once envisioned. Teachers and professors across the globe are scrambling to put their classes online. Schools are signing up for Zoom accounts. Textbook publishers which were already pushing coursework online now are availing the opportunity to justify their encroachment. Coursera, the Udacity rival, is making its higher-ed platform available for free to universities around the world.

In Bangladesh, the concerned ministries are broadcasting lessons for secondary and primary level students through Sangsad TV. Private universities are conducting online classes as per instruction of the UGC. The UGC is now pondering the ways and means to continue higher education at public universities in case this pandemic prolongs. Public universities are also striving to make the way for adjusting their learning styles to provide accessibility to students. For instance, country’s leading engineering university BUET has been running full-fledged trail online courses for its undergraduate students from 12 May, 2020. Teachers are working on redesigning and mastering the lab courses to be launched online.

Attending online classes might not be possible for everyone since most students have returned to their hometowns after the closure of the institutes. Proper infrastructure, laptops, smart phones, uninterrupted power supply, internet access, and Wi-Fi connection might not be present for streaming online classes in rural areas. Students are not supposed to run to their friends for a Wi-Fi signal in these days of lockdown. Students’ financial constraints and learning disabilities as well might hold them back from attending the classes. Besides, needy undergraduate students working in different warehouses cannot adjust their time with online class schedule for their delivery roles or abrupt shift change. These problems are already being highlighted by the students. These establishments and materials must be equally accessible to students for full-fledged online education.

Moreover, late graduation is a concern of many final-year students. Maybe they were finishing their theses or projects. To complete theses having contents like complex computational problems and laboratory analysis, they are in need of a university environment. Here, online classes or working from home is not an appropriate option. Delayed graduation might ruin chances of ambitious student to catch the upcoming sessions in abroad.

As the coronavirus is spreading farther and faster, teachers are undoubtedly worried about their students’ future and career. Teachers are for certain longing to move their classes online formally very quickly. While private schools and universities in some city areas have started taking online classes, schools of suburban and rural areas with scanty resources, would need to adopt online education for the first time.

A common hesitation among educators is a lack of training in advance of using online tools. It is not shocking that many prolific teachers are learning to use computers for the first time. Indeed, it is difficult for teachers to create a sustainable lesson plan of remote schooling without knowing what the future will bring. It is really hard to totally change one’s philosophy of teaching overnight to make it user friendly online. Technology in some cases fails to offer perpetual solution. In this context, technology can disguise the problem for the time being. It takes the form of online courses that promise all the practical results for minimal cost and inconvenience. But the loftier goals of learning or enrichment are derided very often.

Online classes do not require a campus or even a live teacher. An algorithmically generated curriculum and interactive lessons is customized for the individual learner. Particular learning outcomes are optimized, and skills acquisition can be assessed even testing through computer. Online learning is a multibillion-dollar industry. It brashly envisions a future wherein education is propelled to greater heights by technology. Online learning tools have been supplementing classrooms of America for decades. Video lectures are helping weak students learn at their own pace and track homework and assignments. Bill Gates claimed these tools would revolutionize the global classroom. World’s most students are currently out of schools. These online learning tools are being put to the test. Yet it seems that they are not the equalizing force to disseminate education.

Automated classes work well for rudimentary and job-related skills. But they do not catalyze creative thinking, interpretation, and innovation. They do not even work particularly well for learning computer code which is being boosted in real-life programming boot camps with human instructors and struggling peers.

Educators offer more than the content of a course while they are physically present in classrooms. Teacher-Student interaction and presence are important components of effective pedagogy. Very often pedagogy is simply seen as teaching. Rather than lots of traditional thinking and practice are associated with it. According to former professor in community education at the University of Strathclyde Mark K. Smith, pedagogy needs to be explored through the thinking and practice of those educators who look to accompany learners, care for and about them, and bring learning into life. Teaching is just one aspect of their practice. Pedagogy is a way of being with students. It involves joining with students to bring flourishing and relationship to life that is animation, being concerned about their, and others needs and wellbeing, and taking practical steps to help that is caring; and encouraging reflection, commitment and change through education.

Smith considers teaching as a complex activity, which encompasses more than just delivering education. It is also important to remember that all these are grounded in ethical principles and moral commitment. Teaching cannot be deemed anyway as an instrumental activity alone. Teachers set examples by embodying the ideals of learning and critical thinking. They enact the process of learning so that students can watch, observe the subtle details, establish rapport, connect them to history, find their role models, and transfer ideas from one generation to the next.

This pandemic has forced numerous universities worldwide to move classes online. The online learning experiment that is currently underway may demonstrate that higher education can function effectively at a fraction of in-person costs. Therefore, the process of learning might shift shockingly from face-to-face learning to project-based assignments and student working groups allowing the best educators to scale their insights to more students. If it happens, no wonder with deep disappointment students might analyze the costs and benefits of a four-year residential experience.

Hopefully, teachers will decide which chat apps to use, how best to assign homework, and what, if anything, could bridge the gap between physical and virtual campuses. Institutes will provide equal educational opportunities for all the pupil including disable students. But other inequalities such as distracting home environments, or the loss of in-person teaching for students with learning disabilities are harder to address. We should keep an eye on our children so that they cannot fall for internet scams through using websites. Online teaching system using ‘Zoom’, ‘Blackboard’, ‘Canvas’, ‘Teams’, ‘Moodle’, ‘Webex’, Microsoft Lens, and ‘Panopto’ might not be foolproof in security concerns. Teachers need to be wary of the system. For example, during live video conferencing, something in the background of a teacher’s video could make him feel embarrassed. 

Online education is appropriate for this exceptional circumstance created by this pandemic. Many educators may be yearning to return to their classrooms and lectures from virtual one as soon as the virus subsides. Still, being forced by this pandemic to learn online teaching and attend online classes will imbue teachers and students around the world with a new skill-set they might draw on in the future.

The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude.


The author is Assistant Professor, Institute of Appropriate Technology, BUET and Reviewer, Advances in Economics and Business, HRPUB, USA.