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Open and Digital Learning: The Need of the Day

Introduction

Human society is presently witnessing the ill effects of Corona Pandemic. It has resulted into the closure of educational institutions. School authorities, parents and students all are worried about normalising the process of school and college education. One is not sure when will the new academic year start and what norms will have to be followed. Social distancing has now become a new norm in our daily life. If this norm is extended to education system it will give rise to a variety of problems. The educational institutions will have to set up more classrooms and appoint additional teachers. This article, on the other hand, advocates the use of Open and Digital Education (ODL) to resolve the deadlock. The developments that took place in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) over the past few decades are adequate enough to provide education though this mode without face to face interaction. Of course there are a few challenges that need to be overcome before ODL becomes a reality. This article addresses problems associated with ODL education and provide solutions to overcome them.     

Open and Distance Education (ODE)

Distance Education is defined as the practice of using correspondence, either written or virtual, to learn. In this mode of education face to face interaction of teacher and learner is not envisioned. Instead, they can remain separated either by a short or a long distance. In spite of their separation the teaching learning process goes on through Distance Education Mode. The correspondence course was set up for those who could not attend regular schools or colleges due to other responsibilities. In this mode of education students were sent specially designed print material. They were expected to study the material at their pace and appear for examination. At the same time they would work on a project assigned to them and submit the report. The university or school would then assess students’ project reports and answer sheets and award the Certificate or a Diploma.

Correspondence courses began in Europe in 18th century. In the initial period the focus was on print material. As the communication technology grew the institutions started using radio and television to provide instructions to students remotely (Walker, 2013). On some occasions the audio as well as video tapes were made available to the learners. As the transport facility improved periodic Contact Sessions were added to the system. The teachers and students could meet at a specific place for the specific period of time to get their doubts resolved.

As the demand for distance education increased and the technology improved the concept of Open Education took shape. The word open is used to denote Openness in access, Openness to curriculum and Openness to method of teaching. The first university to function on these lines was UK Open University (often referred to as UKOU). It was established in 1969 by the Labour Government of the United Kingdom in a planned town of Milton Keynes, about 80 kilometres away from the megacity of London.

Following the establishment of UKOU leaders from other countries took initiative in setting up similar universities in their regions. Within a short span of time almost all the countries in different continents had their own Open University in place. India too, following the lines of these developments started its first National Open University at New Delhi in 1984. Named after the first lady Prime Minister of India it is known as the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Soon many state and regional open universities were set up in the country. It is now working as a parallel system of education catering to a large number of adults in the country. In order to provide the benefit of distance education to school children an Open School was also established at the national level in 1989. With the headquarters at Delhi the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) now controls a large number of open schools set up in different states of the country.

Developments in ICT

Nineteenth century has witnessed an unprecedented growth in technology. It all began with the presentation by a great Indian scientist, Professor Jagdishchandra Bose at the Royal Society, London in 1897. In his presentation he referred to his own work that demonstrated the possibility of transferring sound waves with the help of radio signals from one place to another. Using this principle an Italian technocrat Gugliani Marconi made an instrument that could transmit audio signals over a long distance without the help of wires. This work led to the invention of Radio that enabled long distance communication.

Twentieth century witnessed the development of yet another important gadget called television. It facilitated capture and transmission of the movements and actions faithfully. Thus began the revolution where audio visual signals could be sent from one place to another. To begin with there were primitive television sets that worked on vacuum tubes. Things soon changed for the better giving rise to television sets working on Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). The clarity and faithfulness of the video are now much more reliable than they were in the past. To begin with television programmes could be telecast over a short distance. This problem was dealt with by setting up Microwave Links. With the launching of Communication Satellites this problem has been solved permanently. Now, one can tune into any television station from any part of the world.

Computers also underwent notable changes in the second part of twentieth century. It was Alan Turing who made the first computer in the form a coding machine during the Second World War. Since then it has come a long way. Developments of Integrated Circuits brought down the size of the gadget drastically. Although size has decreased the capacity of the computer has increased. Developments of Personal Computers (PCs) gave a boost its use by common public. Laptops enabled people to carry office with them. It is now the most reliable instrument for information processing and storing.

Email facility came as a boon to communication technology. This development enabled people form one place to communicate with another within a short time. Sabeer Bhatia, an Indian technocrat initiated Hotmail. A large number of persons from different walks of life resorted to using this facility. Developments in internet facility connected the computer network and design of websites made available information on the fingertips. As the situation stands one can now access the information available on the World Wide Web (WWW) within a short time without facing much difficulty.

The fourth quarter of the twentieth century witnessed the development of mobile telephony. The Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) was the first to launch the cellular network in Japan in 1979. Although India started using mobile phones in the last decade of twentieth century there has been a speedy growth in this domain in twenty first century. The availability of gadgets improved, the connectivity witnessed forward progress and the facilities provided by mobile telephony has also seen upward trend. All this resulted into the establishment of a Connected Society.

The technology used for information processing and communication is known as Information and Communication Technology (ICT). As discussed above ICT has been improved to a great extent over the last few decades and simplified the important tasks of information processing and communication. One can see the impact of ICT on various aspects of human activities like Banking, Tourism, Shopping, etc. Education is also a social process. However, one does not notice any significant impact of ICT on education. The social distancing forced on us due to Carona Pandemic has made us to think of using it for Open and Digital Learning.

Open and Digital Learning (ODL)

With the developments of ICT tools and techniques the possibility of Open and Digital Learning surfaced. It envisages acquisition of knowledge, on the part of the learner using digital inputs. These inputs could be online or offline.

The present education system is the outcome of an industrial revolutions that took place in eighteenth and nineteenth century. It resulted into the establishments of different industries. A special community called the teacher was created to prepare future workers who would serve these by industries and enhance production as well as profits. This preparation was to be achieved within the four walls of an educational institution, during a stipulated time allotted by local educational managers and by following the specific curriculum prescribed by the education ministry. Moreover, the psychological paradigm that dominated classroom interaction was that advocated by behaviourist psychologists. It focussed on behaviour modification of children. This system worked well in nineteenth and twentieth century. But it will not work in twenty first century.

It must be realised that there is a sea change in the demands placed by the society in this century. It expects a manpower that has a training in CMI (Contextualised Multiple Intelligence) and has a capacity to deal with the problems of twenty first century. Moreover, there is a paradigm shift in the understanding on how children acquire knowledge (Agarkar and Brock, 2017). Modern constructivist paradigm in educational psychology informs us that children acquire knowledge through construction. Hence, the role of the teacher is that of a facilitator in knowledge construction rather than that of knowledge distributor. The teacher now needs to play this modified role with the help of digital resources.

The present education system is teacher centred where teacher is worried about covering the syllabus is a given time period. He/she hardly has a time to think of the motivation, attitude and learning style of each student. The use of digital learning will provide an opportunity to the student to understand the content at per his/her pace. For this to happen the learner will have to be made accountable for his/her learning. It must be remembered that the students in developing countries are conditioned to receive information through listening. This conditioning has to be changed so that the children can learn through audio visual inputs.  If required the learner can pause the lesson or repeat it as many times as he/she pleases. There is a huge scope for peer interaction while using digital resources (Robertshaw, 2002). The parents and elders at home have a big role to play in supporting student’s learning in this mode.

Digital learning material to be provided to the students has to be interactive in nature. The use of modern technology like the Augmented Reality in developing such units are found to engage the students resulting into better conceptual understanding (Agarkar, 2019). The real challenge lies in designing digital units that enable the students to interact with material in real time. It must be realised that the recorded video lectures are not going to serve the purpose. The Educational Designers have to think innovatively in developing Open and Digital Learning material so that the child remains engaged in the task for a long time and shares his/her experiences with colleagues.          

Conclusions

The Carona pandemic has given many shocks that has affected many social activities including education. Planners and thinkers are trying to find solution to overcome the problem. Fortunately, ICT has a potential to resolve the deadlock. Use of Open and Digital Learning system can help us in providing education to our young lads without face to face interaction. There are challenges that need to be faced before ODL is practiced in the society. These challenges are certainly not unsurmountable. The time is ripe to take the help of technology while holding the hands of our children for their betterment. Indian Space Research Organization has launched a satellite named EDUSAT, which is dedicated to improve the education in the country. It has a capacity of providing two way audio visual signals. Unfortunately, the facilities provided by this satellite are not utilised fully (Agarkar, Limaye and Pertzborn, 2006). We must prepare ourselves to make use of space based resources to develop manpower that would fulfil our dream of Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self Reliant India).   

References

Agarkar, Sudhakar (2019). Learning through Augmented Reality, IISER International Journal of Research, December 2019.

Agarkar, Sudhakar and Brock, Richard (2017). Learning theories and science education, In K. S. Taber and B. Akpan (Eds.), Science Education: New Directions in Mathematics and Science Education, Sense Publishers Rotterdam.

 

Agarkar, Sudhakar (2016). Role of open educational resources to support school science education in India, in Mei-Hung Chiu (Ed.) Science Education Research and Practice in Asia, Singapore: Springer Science + Business Media.

Agarkar, Sudhakar; Limaye, Sanjay and Pertzborn, Rosalyn (2006). Proceedings of Indo-US Workshop on Utilization of Space-based Resources to Enhance Science Education in India, Mumbai: HBCSE, TIFR.

Robertshaw, Michael (2002). Enhancing peer to peer support through internet, In H. P. Dixit, Suresh Garg, Santosh Panda and Vijayshri (Eds.) Access and Equity-Challenges for Open and Distance Leaning, New Delhi: Kogan Page India Limited.

Walker, Rob (2013). Open learning and the media: Transformation of education in times of change, In Terry Evans and Darry Nation (Eds.) Reforming Open and Distance Education-Critical Reflection from Practice, London: Routledge.

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