Teleconferencing and E-learning – Will Be The New Normal?

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Teleconferencing and E-learning – Will Be The New Normal?

The outbreak of COVID-19 is sweeping across the planet. Households are quarantined, schools are shut down and new “shelter in place” announcements are issued almost daily. So, Teleconferencing and E-learning Will Be The New Normal!

With an increasing number of states, provinces and even whole countries closing institutions of learning as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 80% of the world’s students are not attending school (UNESCO, 2020). COL stands ready to share its expertise and resources to enable stakeholders to keep the doors of learning open for all.

It appears that while technologically conversant faculty of engineering and computer science departments have quickly managed to figure out how to conduct their classes online, faculty of other departments in non-technical departments, like the social sciences, humanities, etc, have not been able to do the same and require training.

Moreover, with just a fraction of faculty being able to comply with the order to conduct online classes, the situation is exposing scalability limits of online learning solutions. Several faculty members I talked to shared that due to the sudden surge in usage of the online lesson feature, the LMS is so overloaded that roughly half of the time it is inoperational. Building and demoing an e-learning solution in a single school or classroom is one thing, but building it to be scalable so it keeps running for thousands of classes with hundreds of thousands of people at a time is another matter.

Teleconferencing and E-learning includes Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, like Coursera, edX and others, have been successfully delivering excellent learning experience for a decade, where anyone who wants to learn can do so at any time of the day. Then why, you may ask, this insistence on making all students log on at a fixed time? Why not allow faculty to record video lectures and upload them for students to view them at a time of day that suits them? Apparently, there are still legacy administrative issues to consider, like taking student attendance, and even monitoring whether faculty ‘is coming to work’.
Such considerations prevent the whole-hearted adoption of best practices in distance learning. We are quite literally seeing 20th century concerns holding up 21st century solutions. These same concerns have cropped up in the US, where universities have started announcing closings just a few days ago.

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There are still some unresolved questions surrounding school / university closures – for eg: if the closings are extended, how can year-end / semester-end assessments be conducted while ensuring there is no cheating? This question still has not been addressed.

Schools received similar instructions, to switch to e-learning, but without any LMS similar to what universities have in place, they are now scrambling and exploring options independently. Some schools have landed on Microsoft Teams, others on Zoom Video Conferencing, etc, to conduct lectures for students at home. Meanwhile, any vendor who has any solution to help the situation has made it available free of cost.
In Pakistan’s education development sector, we have been hearing talk about an education emergency for at least a decade. In that time we have seen various awareness campaigns, development projects, pilot projects leveraging ed-tech and e-learning. There have been extensive discussions about the adoption of technology to reach more children with the limited resources we have.

In the aftermath of the World Health Organization’s designation of the novel coronavirus as a pandemic on March 11, universities across America are shutting down in an attempt to slow its spread. On March 6, the University of Washington took the lead, canceling all in-person classes, with a wave of universities across the country following suit. University of California, Berkeley, U.C., San Diego, Stanford, Rice, Harvard, Columbia, Barnard, N.Y.U, Princeton and Duke, among many others are moving to Teleconferencing and E-learning.

This shift into virtual classrooms is the culmination of the past weeks’ efforts to prevent COVID-19 from entering university populations and spreading to local communities: cancellation of university-funded international travel for conferences, blanket bans on any international travel for spring break, canceling study-abroad programs, creating registration systems for any domestic travel.

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