The sudden closure of all the institutions in India and around the world after March 2020 had led to abrupt conversion of conventional face-to-face instruction to the fully online (blended / hybrid) format in many IIT’s and NIT’s in a very short transitional time. Initially, it was very difficult to move completely to online platforms for teaching learning, evaluation and laboratory classes. Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, where physical distancing, safety and hygiene has become the new norm, there was no option left for the traditional educators to change quickly and adopt to new normal in the last 1.5 years.
Many were scepticalto run the online education through the internet particularly while delivering engineering education. However, over a very short time in few months (due to sustained closure of institutions with indefinite doubts about reopening of the institutions), things changed very drastically. Although the online education has not been a new concept to educators in general and even for technical education, during this pandemic online education has leapfrogged by many folds and many started adopting it boldly doing new experiments.In India with initiative like National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) and SWAYAM, online education has become a viable component of higher education in engineering.
However, online delivery is more popular in engineering subfields such as electrical and computer engineering, data sciences and artificial intelligence, computer science and information technology, Internet of things, management courses, etc., especially at the master’s or post-graduate level. Online learning has become popular just because of the rise of the internet and new technologies, however due to the scare of Covid 19 pandemic and its spread many are adopting by force of the nature.
The engineering education that has been traditionally content-centered with orientation towards design and laboratory content todevelop critical thinking or problem-solving skills in the student has to adopt suddenly to completely online. Online or virtual education has many advantages for the following reasons: flexible and offers wide selection of programmes at lower cost, accessible and allows customized learning experience along with learning effectiveness with their own pace, student and faculty satisfaction, scaling and cost.
Various pedagogical methodologies have shown efficacy during these difficult days that an enhancement of engineering education happens due to active learning, flipped classroom with student focussed learning withhands-on project-based learning with virtual internships. IIT’s have developed new learning formats by empowering teachers to use the technology with blended learning.
Blended learning is the future face of learning across higher educational institutions particularly in Engineering and technology based courses. Blended learning prepares the student to be disciplined with time management and learning skills in addition to the learning the usage of technology. Most of the younger generation in India and in particularly the students who enters technical education domain in HEIs are ready and equipped to deal with this new learning mode.Instructors / teachers should develop a familiarity with online learning pedagogy and tools for instruction and evaluation.
However, a training is essential for most of the faculty/teachers to handle this dual mode of teaching-learning processincluding handling of the learning management system.Development of fair assessment methods to evaluate the performance of students with no cheating and plagiarism will be a great challenge for the online education.It will continue to create a digital divide in the country given the fact that its online component will leave the less privileged sections in tier 1 and tier II towns deprived.
Governments should make an effort to increase access to the internet across the country and reduce the digital devide. When it comes to lab-driven subjects, it is essential that blended learning should be carefully used to strike a balance of hand-on, skill development and conceptual learning.Hands-on training in laboratory courses to work with equipment, instruments, and materials is an inherent and necessary aspect of engineering education, which needs to be carefully blended in online delivery.
In the future, a combination of face to face and online learning will give students some flexibility in terms of place, pace and path.The NEP 2020 enacts numerous changes in India’s education policy with emphasis on technology assisted learning and hope to bring many positive aspects for the online learning in higher education in particular technical education. With NEP 2020 implementation plans, many universities started promoting online engineering education for the post-pandemic era.
– Prof. T. G. Sitharam is director at Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.