A Digital University: For Sharing

Sharing is good. With digital technology and a digital university, sharing is easy. That’s the way to go in future. However, it is also necessary that we do not forget our human connection.

Teaching in a digital or face to face mode must include, storytelling, discussion, teaching, training, and focussed research. Not since the times of Vishnu Sharma in Panchatantra, storytelling, as a mode of teaching-learning been used at any level. Guru-Sishya tradition or face to face learning thrived in the ancient days when scholarship flourished. It still must be the most preferred way. However Eklavya, after being rejected by Guru Dronacharya, began a disciplined program of self-study over many years and became an archer of exceptional prowess proving that education and impart of knowledge, can take place in formal or informal settings. 

A job market, lukewarm at best, lack of quality faculty, poor networking, poor leadership, rising number of students, rising costs, inadequate curriculum interventions, infrastructural deficit, painfully low teacher-student ratios and a woefully low planning quotient, both in the public and private education space, they all contributed to an alarming fall in quality levels in our education system. 

Whereas the current universities will need to transform into “Velcro Institutions” in spirit, where they must be capable of being pulled apart and reassembled in new ways to respond to changing opportunities, probably, it is time the 'Digital', 'virtual' and 'networked' institutions start operating across the boundaries. Further, meeting ‘50 GER’ as set by NEP is possible only by going digital and not by building more brick-and-mortar institutions. 

In the recent budget, it was announced that the Government is in the process of setting up a Digital University that will cater to a world-class education. This is an announcement that we must welcome, in the above context. Hence, looking beyond all limitations of face-to-face education, technology must be harnessed effectively to reach the unreached. What would be the contours of such a university, however, must be carefully drawn for it must be acknowledged that not everything can and should be done online.  

For those struggling with the cost of higher education, it’s easy to see that internet-based learning opportunities can come at a fraction of the price. Expanding the possibilities, if one can build a model that provides personalised learning online, be it for teaching or for competitive examinations, or for value-added courses for working professionals, the digital university could be a future game-changer. 

Currently, across the world, virtual schools and virtual universities deliver full curricula online. Many private, public, non-profit and for-profit institutions now offer distance education courses from the most basic instruction, through the highest levels of degree and doctoral programs. Levels of accreditation may vary. Widely respected universities such as Stanford and Harvard also deliver online courses. The pedagogies must be innovated accordingly. Lifelong learning, virtual learning or blended/hybrid learning are all needed today. 

Content is the heart of any mode of delivery. Synchronous or asynchronous. The Governments effort of developing SWAYAM platform, can certainly bridge a part of the gap. Content in different Indian languages and ICT formats will also enable delivery to most of the students across the country. Active effort must also be made to collate best content of the private players. Expanding from 12 to 400 TV channels, one class, one TV channel programme of PM e-Vidya could also address some delivery side problems. Online teaching platforms where lessons are conducted via video chat and a virtual whiteboard with file sharing functions by various teachers / experts, could be the future.

A central digital university with its centres in every district built on a ‘hub and spoke’ model may be a way forward. However, building digital infrastructure, virtualisation of services and integration of various software and applications will be imperative for the success of such a university. 

One of the major ills of current delivery models is the regimentation and structure it seeks, in implementation. With a surfeit of information available in the public domain, and children addicted to social networking sites, it is imperative to wean them away and allow them to learn at their pace and understand at their leisure. Visual mediums are at least 30% more effective than any other. YouTube is the most popular social network Almost every major social network like the Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more, have all made it easier to upload, view and share videos on their respective applications and websites. Teaching, learning methodologies on the digital university must evolve and not stagnate with time. 

Teaching methods would have to change with new teaching concepts (e.g., flipped classroom) and new teaching infrastructures (e.g., equipment for virtual worlds). Even digital rights management would be extremely important for a digital university. Teachers will have to transform from being teachers to guides to mentors. New learning infrastructure e.g., increased computing capacities and AR/VR devices may be needed. Virtual and next-generation labs like Code labs, Pop up studios, Cloud innovation labs, Gaming garage, AR/VR Studios, Makerspace, Innovation/Venture development centres, AI and Robot parks will all be needed. Finally, the teaching-learning methods will need to be student-centric and personalized.

Adi Shankara’s teaching-learning methods were completely student-centric. Be it ‘Shravan Vidhi’ or ‘Manan Vidhi’, or ‘Nididhyasa Vidhi’, or ‘Prashnottar Vidhi’ or ‘Tark Vidhi’, or ‘Vyakhya Vidhi’, or ‘Adhyaropa Apavad Vidhi’, or ‘Drishtant Vidhi’, or ‘Katha-Kathan Vidhi’, or ‘Upadesh Vidhi’, each method was a revelation. Unfortunately, except for ‘Shravana Vidhi’ and ‘Upadesh Vidhi’, neither our schools nor our teachers want them today. These pedagogies will be useful in virtual/digital universities as well. 

Some online content providers are actually experimenting by building these pedagogies in their online content delivery even as some media organizations and Ed-Tech companies are addressing these pragmatic modes of instruction and delivery, affordability and access. They even cater to a social and egalitarian ethos being associated with cultural pedagogies, alternative curricula, community education and independent learning. 

The digital university must allow time for individual exploration through discussion with others and reading works that broaden the mind and build skills that are useful for a decent living.

The digital university can also act as a pressure point on our traditional universities to perform and deliver better or close down. In a world, where machines communicate with each other and where manufacturers create Cyber-physical production systems (CPPS), and industries integrate the real world into a virtual one and enable machines to collect live data, analyse them, and even make decisions based upon them, can we afford either our universities or our children to be left behind? A digital university appropriately enabled may be the answer. Jacques Barzun, a French-American historian and philosopher, once said “Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.’. This is true whatever the mode of delivery. Let’s bring back the regard for teaching through this digital venture. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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digital university Union Budget 2022 digitisation

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