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Blended education in the post-Covid era: Dr Md Aktaruzzaman

Blended education in the post-Covid era: Dr Md Aktaruzzaman

Education basically comprises teaching, learning and assessment and these dimensions are highly interrelated to each other. During the pandemic shifting from traditional face-to-face education to online was not an easy journey for many institutions across the world – a bunch of changes in terms of digital competencies, pedagogical knowledge, psychosocial counselling, varied levels of interaction, engagement and assessment strategies, support structures, etc. were required to be adopted in the institutional policies and practices.

Now at the post-Covid stage, should we go back to the traditional face-to-face education leaving all these remarkable shifts or changes behind? – certainly not. Then what should be our strategies for the post-Covid education?

During the pandemic students and teachers are highly habituated with blended, online and digital education. Most of the universities in Bangladesh are using at least Google Meet or Microsoft Teams or Zoom for online synchronous class alongside Google Classroom but failed to incorporate a full-fledged LMS like Moodle, Canvas or Blackboard.

This is a good beginning but we need to ensure that teachers are attending classes regularly and effectively as well as whether students are engaged in the class or apply fair means at online examinations. Under the National Blended Learning Policy 2021, each university may have a blended learning centre and a learning management system with extensive monitoring, accountability and professional development options which could pave the way for our universities towards excellence in education.

Let’s start by understanding the chronological development of education paradigms and their differences with respect to technological advancement starting from Face-to-face ‘ Digital (e-learning) ‘ Blended (partially online) ‘ Hybrid ‘ Fully Online ‘ Phygital learning.

Since the beginning of the human creation, we are habituated with face-to-face education, which is further enhanced through digital tools or ICTs and referred to as digital learning, for instance, teaching in a class with multimedia projector. Blended learning implies to the purposeful combination of face-to-face and online activities, for instance, keeping LMS as a digital content repository and formative assessment alongside face-to-face class, conducting classes integrating three days face-to-face and two days online, etc.

However, using a smartboard in a face-to-face class or Jamboard in an online class or a lecture followed by field visit are not typically blended learning in today’s context – it should have both onsite and online components. In Hybrid learning some individuals participate in person and some participate online. Instructors and facilitators teach remote and in-person learners at the same time using technology like a teacher with 50 students in a class and 500 students connected to it online synchronously.

It is different from blended learning at which instructors or learners complete some components online and do others in person but not at the same time. Online learning is education that takes place over the Internet and across distance, not in a traditional classroom, for example, conducting classes using Zoom or Meet video conferencing with anLMS. A new trend called phygitallearning (phygital = physical + digital) is the concept of using technology to integrate the digital learningspace with the physical world for the purpose of providing a unique interactive experience to the learners.

Blended learning should reflect not only on the blend of delivery modes but also class schedules. For example, I am teaching a section of computer science and engineering students at Daffodil University who have taken five courses in the semester including Operating System and its Lab, Data Mining and its Lab, Economics, System Analysis and Design, Academic Writing for Research.

From the nature of the courses, it is highly possible to conduct the two lab oriented courses – Operating System and Data Mining (both theory and lab) face-to-face and remaining three classes online. Except the summative assessment (e.g., final exam) all other types such as quiz, presentation, assignment or even MidTermexam can be conducted online.

The class or work distribution could be 3 days onsite and 2 days online out of 5 working days for students and for teachers it could be 4 days face-to-face and 1 day online, subject to ensuring quality and accountability. This will save a lot of time and space, particularly in our country where traffic jam and many other issues are our daily companions. Teachers can utilize this time for research, innovation, industry engagement whereas students can engage themselves in research, study at home or part-time work or tuition in case of financial difficulties. As education is expensive in the developed countries and students do not depend on their parents, most of them are engaged in part-time works irrespective of their socio-economic conditions.

To ensure quality in face-to-face, online or blended learning at the higher education sector, each university should have a customized and centrally managed learning management system. Besides, smart-education type platform is important to have for monitoring, management and accountability.Student feedback and accountability of teachers – these two aspects should be the key considerations for continuing effective blended education. Student monthly feedback and activities for each course are carefully analysed and meaningful patterns are extracted to improve teaching-learning.

Blended or online education is not a problem by itself but rather it depends on the quality, credibility and trustworthiness of the provider institution offering the program.We have a good start, and the task now is to put policies into practices and strengthen those practices institutionally and nationally to prepare for the future world of transnational education.
The writer is digital
education expert &director, Blended Learning Centre, Daffodil International University, Daffodil Smart City, Dhaka

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