Dr. Vanita Bhoola is an accomplished Senior Management Professional with Academia and Management Consulting. She is heading the department for EMBA and Executive Education for SP Jain School of Global Management and is used to managing P&L and has engaged with several top clients like BOSCH, CIPLA, Bank Of America, Pidilite, Tata housing, TCS, Brigade Group, KEC International Kalaptaru Power, CGI India, Ernst and Young, Quality Kiosk and others. She has more than 24 years of experience in consulting and teaching. She has got published in reputed journals and article. She was the only women representative who was interviewed from India amongst 21 women from 17 countries for the Book published Perspectives of Women in Project Management. Her areas of expertise are Project Management, Business Statistics, Negotiation Skills, Critical Thinking & Emotional Intelligence, Spreadsheet Modelling & Analytics.
For the past decade with the advancement and convergence of several telecom and digital technologies, online learning has come on its own, for self-paced, low-cost learning. Academic institutes had also engaged in limited tie-ups with several such online learning initiatives to test the waters.
The black swan event-triggered academic institutions to accelerate the adoption of online learning. The initial steps were to conduct the physical classroom online via virtual sessions to fulfil the obligatory academic mandates for the year. However, due to the disruption due to the prolongation of the pandemic, the model had to evolve to replicate the entire physical ecosystem, training, and student management, including proctored examinations and virtual campuses for students and teacher engagement. Liberalized educational policies allowing virtual classrooms and examinations contributed to the hybrid model stay for the foreseeable future.
Hybrid learning is the way forward, it has disrupted the future of learning, and Institutions are streaming live classes in parallel with face-to-face. The hybrid model has opened up an opportunity for students with special needs or care to benefit from easy to access a virtual environment. The same is true with corporate executives, residing in different geographical locations for work, who wish to enrol for formal education on domestic or foreign campuses which is as impactful as face-to-face experience. The hybrid model of learning opens up opportunities to enrol for distant campuses and opt for quality trainers and learning which may span continents, beyond just certificate programs.
There are strong benefits of physical teachers and classrooms, like individual engagement and peer networking which cannot be easily replaced by virtual campuses. These two elements need to be addressed when creating virtual education spaces.
For virtualizing the first aspect, student-trainer and student peer to peer engagement need to be evolved in a virtual classroom to levels wherein it is not mere video streaming of live or recorded classes. In a virtual classroom, digital collaboration tools are employed for effective individual student engagement. Students’ use of virtual whiteboards, notice boards, time-bound assignment calendars, and other collaboration activities is essential. One-on-one student-teacher engagement during a real-time class can be via closed captions, views can be expressed through classroom chats and speech.
The key is to develop a mature engagement model using tools to encourage student connection and camaraderie.
Addressing the second aspect of inter-personal engagement, traditional ice-breaker activities conducted in person will need to be revamped to develop connections with in-person and virtual students. Educators can create social channels, and groups for students to get to know each other. Establishing routines and rituals in the classroom gives students something to anticipate and motivates them to participate throughout the course.
Strict protocols need to be followed for practising cyber safety and following digital citizenship rules. Anonymity is not desirable in a classroom environment for a student to take ownership of one’s conduct and ownership for engaging. Students must understand that their primary goal is to protect themselves, be courteous of others, and respect the ideas and work of others.
Instructors have to use various strategies to keep the students engaged as active participants. Students can be assigned to different break-out rooms for group discussions, problem-solving, and preparing collaborative project work which can be monitored to understand individual student’s participation and contribution to the subject matter and assignments. These break-out groups can be a mix of in-class and virtual students.
Lab work can be done by preparing hands-on activities to practice or visualise concepts using common daily objects. Virtual students can assimilate the learning with the same set of day-to-day objects available in their home to participate equally in the class activity. A list of such readily available items can be indicated at the start of such sessions so that students can be prepared.
Use of online tools needs to be encouraged, like canva.com for presentations, Ed lives for diagramming, mind maps, and flow charts which will make both in-class and virtual students be at par in contributing to projects and presentations.
Strategies that quickly evaluate students’ comprehension and engagement during such hybrid sessions will need to be evolved. Strategies include the use of smart symbols in the collaboration tools to indicate their level of comprehension and involvement. They can raise thumbs, hands, or question marks to indicate their level of understanding or request need for help. Encourage sing online presentation portals in groups to illustrate concepts and showcase their understanding in the classroom in front of other groups.
Instructors will need to be retrained in the art of content delivery for both physical as well as virtual classrooms. The levels of engagement in a 3-D classroom environment are much richer due to the proximity and exclusivity of the space to a classroom, a strategy will be needed for the instructor to engage the students in a virtual space that is felt to be exclusive for the group and inclusive at individual attention level.
Many modern AI engines are mature for emotion analysis. In a classroom session, it is easy for a trained eye of the instructor to make out the comprehension levels and engagement levels of the students and where there is a need to fill in. In a virtual environment, this can prove difficult. AI engines or emotion detectors can be deployed to give the instructor a read of the class sentiment based on the facial expressions of the individual students which can be exclusively visible only to the instructor, who can take cues from the readings and focus on students who are deemed to be falling behind.
To summarize, the hybrid model may have evolved during the pandemic to fill a necessity to continue academics of students bottled up at home, however, it has now become a new accepted standard to enhance the traditional campus and classroom model for the best of both worlds. Hybrid learning tools allow much greater collaboration, engagement, and sharing, and develop a student’s skills that are similar to those prevailing in the corporate world. It opens up the global education big names to be accessible in the palm of your hand without ever leaving the home or workplace.