Two-day International Online Conference On Teaching-Learning in the Time of Pandemic: Role of Online Learning

Organised by Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University, Guwahati, Assam, India
In Collaboration with
Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA), New Delhi

Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University (KKHSOU), Guwahati, Assam in collaboration with Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA), New Delhi organised an International Online Conference on the theme “Teaching-Learning in the Time of Pandemic: Role of Online Learning” from 21-22 April 2020. In this Conference, Prof. Asha Singh Kanwar, President and CEO of Commonwealth of Learning delivered the Inaugural speech. The different conference activities were led by Prof. Kandarpa Das, Vice Chancellor, KKHSOU and Prof. Madhu Parhar, Director, CEMCA.

The different distinguished guests, ODL experts and dignitaries other than Prof. Kanwar who joined the Conference from different parts of the world include names like:

Prof. Nageshwar Rao, Vice Chancellor, IGNOU, New Delhi
• Dr. B. K. Bhadri, MHRD, Government of India
• Prof. Melinda Bandalaria, Chancellor, University of Philippines Open University
• Prof. Ami Upadhyay, VC, BAOU, India
• Prof. Srikant Mahapatra, VC, OSOU
• Prof. E. Vayunandan, VC, YCMOU
• Dr. V. Balaji, Vice president, COL
• Prof. Tian Belawati, Former Rector, Universitas Terbuka , Indonesia
• Dr. Sanjaya Mishra, Education Specialist, COL
• Prof. Samuel Anhaban Ariadurai, VC, Open University of Sri Lanka
• Prof. Dr. M. A. Mannan, Vice Chancellor, Bangladesh Open University
• Dr. K. C. Li, Open University of Hong Kong
• Prof. Tsuneo Yamada, Open University of Japan
• Dr. Andy Liew, HELP University, Malaysia
• Prof. Maitrayee Chaudhuri, Jawaharlal Nehru University
• Prof. Santosh Panda, STRIDE, IGNOU

All the distinguished guests and experts expressed their views and concerns on the crisis talking place in the field of education across the whole world due to the Lockdown caused by the Covid 19 Pandemic and threw light on what the educational institutions, administrators, educators and teachers should do in the time of the Pandemic which has already affected more than 1.5 billion learners of all ages from due to the closure of schools and universities, which equals around 90% of the world’s total enrolled students.

As part of the conference, around 220 abstracts were received from teachers and independent scholars from within the nation and abroad. The international participants who sent abstracts were from countries like Canada, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Russia. However, only 124 abstracts were accepted for presentation in as many as 12 Technical Sessions distributed in two days. Dr. Prasenjit Das, Associate Professor in English, KKHSOU, Dr. Bhaskar Sarmah, Assistant Professor in Economics, KKHSOU and Dr. Manas Ranjan Panigrahi, Senior Programme Officer, CEMCA, acted as the Joint-Convenors of the Online Conference. They were assisted by all the faculty members and officers of KKHSOU in the various pre and post Conference activities.


Important Recommendations

Most of the participants of the conference unanimously stated that Distance universities have faced less damage of the Covid-19 pandemic than the traditional universities. The following are some of the important recommendations of the conference delegates.

1. There needs to be some kind of mechanism in place so as to monitor the uninterrupted flow of information, reduce the drop-out rates and narrow down the digital divide. The various intergovernmental agencies, governments and educational institutions must work in tandem to build frameworks for implementing and monitoring online learning, share best practices and resources in the field of online learning, promote global and regional partnerships, monitor impact of distance and online learning, invest in technology infrastructure, work on capacity building of the instructors and provide targeted support to the vulnerable learners.  

2. During the lockdown and the worldwide situation that follows necessitates that the gap between conventional learning and distance learning can be minimised with the right of technology. In India, the UGC and other regulatory bodies must come forward to look into the matter and formulate suitable policies in this regard. The Indian education system must take proactive measures so that students are not compelled to suffer the sudden loss  

3. The fact is also that instead of only focusing on online learning, efforts must be made to monitor that the admission and examination processes become even more flexible during a crisis situation. In light of the present situation, the Indian open Universities must start the admission to various academic programmes and examinations be conducted on a quarterly basis.   

4. Feedback and assessment mechanism in the Indian ODL systems must be strengthened as it would help significantly in improving the area of distance learning. Besides, extensive use of OER (Open Educational Resources) to uplift distance education in India, especially during this period of crisis is sure to bring in positive transformations. At the same time, emphasis should be given on using effective teaching techniques to improve the achievement of students.  

5. The Role of SAARC in facilitating Education in the South Asian Nations to be taken into serious consideration. The SAARC CONSORTIUM OF OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING (SACODIL) SACODIL as an Umbrella Organization can play a proactive role in facilitating digital education with the help of various e-learning platforms already available in the South Asian Nations like FOOE, SAWAYM, Mukto-Path, so on and so forth.  

6. In a country like India, connectivity is still the primary issue and requires big investments. People can adopt technology very fast so reaching out is not a problem. But more blending is required between traditional and online teaching and the teachers’ capacity building is the need of the hour to improve them continuously.  

7. It is the right time to integrate ODL with new technologies and the techniques adopted during the pandemic situation should be used regularly in normal course of teaching in the future. However, the search for alternatives to online learning for students of the science stream having practical should be carried out systematically.  

8. The Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India has recently announced the launch of Integrated Government Online Training for the front-line workers, focusing on training and providing updates on the pandemic to 1.5 crore health workers, hygiene workers, paramedics, security forces, government officials, along with the students enrolled in NCC, NSS, scouts and guides etc. Such an initiative will prove to be quite beneficial in providing essential life-saving courses like ‘Basics of COVID’, ‘ICU Care and Ventilation Management’, ‘Infection Prevention through PPE’ etc. The ODL institutions as well as conventional educational institutions can introduce more courses and help GOI build up a repository of human resources, thereby preparing a second line of defence through on line teaching-learning of prospective learners.  

9. The University should direct its effort to convert all the print study materials to e-content, make the examination process completely online, to conduct completely online classes and ensure that all academic and administrative meetings are conducted through video conferencing, and significantly, to work towards capacity building of the faculty members in this regard.  

10. Particular emphasis should also be laid on addressing the issues of persons with disability in the context of education and the greater need of co-ordination amongst Open Universities. In the context of the present scenario and in light of the emerging need to transform the existing systems of teaching learning to the online mode, the role of UGC and MHRD need to be that of facilitators, rather than that of regulators.  

11. Community radio could be an effective alternative mechanism to support learners during a crisis situation like that of the present COVID-19 outbreak. The geographical range limitation of community radio (which is 10-15 km), can be easily overcome by having internet radio facility. There can be radio apps in each Indian university having a community radio.  

12. The use of technology in school education should be seen as an instrument to bridge the student-learning gap among the school going children. For this, the pattern followed in other countries facing lockdown situation may be followed in India too.  

13. Tapping the learners’ preferences as well as enhancing the skills of the teaching faculty through Capacity Development Programme would yield better results in the direction of online pedagogy.  

14. The challenges like the lack of skills among the teachers to conduct classes online, inaccessibility issue by disabled children, costly mobile devices, poor network connectivity, cyber-crime are however some of the issues that should be well taken care of by the regulatory bodies.  

15. Regarding evaluation and assessment, various new methods can be adopted instead of conventional methods. They include Home Assignment (Open book system), time test (speed test), group test, online test, test with LMS, laboratory test using virtual labs. The universities may also undertake online innovative assessment methods such as- participation in discussion forum, peer assessment, synchronous online seminar presentations, online assessment using-respondous, TCExam, e-Exam with models, online projects etc. Beside these, offline innovative assessment methods such as-project based term end exam, term paper, evidence-based approaches, rubrics-based assessment etc. can prove to be very handy. Steps like cancellation of on-campus exams, use of online exams or performance in other tasks, pass/fail grading and opting out/late drop out etc. should be now practised by the universities.  

16. Online learning has the capability to find solution to the difficulties and utter helplessness experienced by the elderly lot of the population. The online mode of learning can create numerous facilities for the elderly people in the form of health apps, apps for their mundane needs and provisions, health, infotainment and entertainment apps etc.