COVID Wasn’t A Real Shock But A Little Shake

A panel discussion on ‘Digital Resilience in Higher Education’ was hosted by BW Education in association with BW Businessworld.

There has been a discussion revolving around the evolution of digital learning in universities that has been subjected to a disaster such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To understand how e-learning assisted colleges to remain open and even to improve learning and teaching as it recovered from this long affecting crisis and how can learning technologies be used to assist academic institutions in the face of such crises, BW Education hosted a panel discussion with some of the most eminent academicians of the nation. 

The session titled ‘Digital Resilience in Higher Education’ engaged industry stalwarts: Dr D N Rao, President, Vignanajyothi Education Society; Dr C Muthamizchelavan, Vice Chancellor, SRM Institute of Science and Technology; Dr Sudhir Gavhane, Vice Chancellor, MGM University, Aurangabad; R Janardhan, Pro Vice Chancellor, Dayanand Sagar University | Sr Executive Vice President, Dayanand Sagar Institutions; Dr Manjunatha, Principal, New Horizon College of Engineering - Official Marathahalli, Bengaluru and Raghav Gupta, Managing Director - APAC & India, Coursera. The panel was moderated by Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld & exchange4media Group. 

Talking about the ways in which the institution is becoming digitally resilient and future ready in terms of changing the face of higher education, Dr Muthamizchelavan, said, “We have been collaborating with industry to offer ‘one credit course’. When I say, ‘one credit course’, it means we will arrange lectures on the recent technology or the niche topics, where the students have to be exposed. If we take the present situation, we may not have enough resources to teach the course as required by the industry. So, we use to have urgent faculties from the industry. They will be coming to the institution, offering the course for the interested students – it is not mandatory. Once they happen to interact with the industry experts, they will understand what the requirement is. This will open opportunities for them to go for internships/projects and if they do well, they may also get absorbed in the same company.” 

Elaborating on building digital resilience in the institution, Dr Manjunatha asserted, “We made our entire campus digitally stabled. We gave importance to digital infrastructure. Immediately, we started taking the videos of the lab equipment experiments. Because it’s engineering education, practical exposure becomes very important. We told all our faculty members to make the videos along with simulation techniques. We made it more effective for the lab experiment and also study material. Our industry labs were also there.”  

Giving his opening remarks on the subject, Dr Rao stated, “Education - which is basically teaching-learning process, has to be resilient for anything that happens around us and it’s what happened; digital happened in the recent days. Realizing this one, almost from last 5-6 years onwards, we were thinking of how to make our teaching-learning process as resilient as possible for all possible changes. Today it is COVID, tomorrow it could be something else, day after tomorrow it could be change of government. Anything can happen, but our teaching-learning methodology in the institutions must be resilient to all these things.” 

Throwing light on some interesting industry insights, Mr Raghav informed, “There are today about 3,000 businesses and millions of working professionals from those businesses who come to learn on Coursera and I was looking at the top ten skills that a working professional learned on Coursera in 2019 pre-COVID and then in 2020 during COVID. In 2019, the number 1 skill learned on Coursera was ‘Python Programming’ , number 2 was ‘Neural Networks’ and number 3 was ‘Algorithms and Regression’ and then number 7 was ‘Writing’, number 8 was Supply Chain and number 9 was ‘Cloud Computing - basically all hard skills. And then if you look at 2020, number 1 skill learnt on the Coursera platform was ‘Writing’; number 3 was ‘Python’ – it went down from 1 to 3. But number 4 was ‘Mindfulness’, number 5 was ‘Meditation’, number 6 was ‘Gratitude’, number 7 was ‘Kindness’, number 8 was ‘Listening’ and ‘Algorithms’ was number 9 and ‘Learning’ was number 10. So what this period of crisis and resilience for crisis that we are talking about, has shown us is that along with functional skills - what may broadly be called as human skills, have become equally important.” 

Discussing a few advantages of the COVID-19 pandemic for the education sector, Dr Gavhane asserted, “It is the benefit of COVID-19 that all of a sudden, all the institutions of higher learning which were considering the digital education – ODL (Open & Distance Learning) as secondary, has now been forced to opt it as primary. So, that has become a driving stage for instructional impartation of knowledge.  

“New concepts that have emerged like ‘Learn From Home’, ‘Teach From Home’ and ‘Work From Home’ have changed the mindset of teaching and learning methodology,” added Dr Gavhane. 

Speaking about the educational institutions staying relevant and embracing the technology with an ease, Prof Janardhan stressed, “For many of the educational institutions, especially who were offering Technology, Management and Sciences, for them the COVID wasn’t a real shock – it was a little shake. The first few days was a little disturbing but then the technology institutions that were already teaching technology programs, engineering programs – they ragged using technology quite a bit and therefore there was not the kind of inconvenience caused in the delivery of education. It went on smooth; the transition was without any hitch. We were able to embrace the technology and if somebody has not done it, I don’t think we should be in the business of education. ” 

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