Prof Dr. Maqsudul Hasan Nuri
COVID-19 pandemic is raging and resulting in physical isolation and social distancing as preventive measures. Prime Minister and Chief Justice of Pakistan have lately advised relaxing of complete national lockdown with partial opening of businesses and normal life with due precautions. Yet in the universities and educational institutions the lockdown is still persisting. HEC has ordered E-learning classes to start immediately in a bid to save the Spring 2020 semester for students.
Many universities have, therefore, pedagogically started experimenting with E-classes. Even if the virus were to soon subside, albeit unlikely till the end of this year as distance learning has come to stay and might continue in future. As transition from conventional live-in classes to the digital system takes place there are bound to be trials and errors due to some teething issues. With any new technology, there are growing pains for end-users. But when procedures are streamlined and refined the impediments could be minimized. That the Pakistani universities and higher learning institutes should be switching to digital technology mode is the compelling need of the circumstances. In this regard, HEC has issued guidelines to devise syllabi and courses, craft lesson plans, attendance rules, exams and grading system. Were it not for the eruption of sudden, rapid covid-19, causing prolonged closure of universities, this decision would not taken place. In fact, the onset and persistence of the virus has only catalyzed switch over to E-learning.
There are many advantages of E-learning such as economy, time, ease, accessibility and wider dissemination. Notwithstanding the obvious benefits there are some challenges that have to be addressed. These are particularly relevant in case of developing countries like Pakistan. They can be briefly described thus :
Lack of infrastructure: Computer literacy and facilities, especially in far- flung and rural areas of the country are problematic: computer illiteracy, lack of internet connection, speed, repair or maintenance work act as hindrances. Besides, poor households, lack of independence with family members and restricted spaces pose frequent distractions. Designation of work areas: Lack of proper work areas can be a major hurdle in remote teaching and distance learning. For this, organizing learning space is paramount in ensuring continuity in learning — now that usual classroom studies and structures may not exist. Students need designated quiet place to focus, read and work on assignments. The environment, if not conducive to concentration, can be dysfunctional and wastage of time. If teachers and students sit and focus for extended period of time, they need to be provided comfortable space that is free from all distractions. Therefore, it is important that each student has/her own private workspace, equipped with comfortable seating, a laptop or other device, necessary materials.
While students can gain more knowledge, teachers also can get more time for latitude and time to work and do own research. By devising specialized lectures on topics of interest, they can offer useful webinars. Reliance on Technology: Technology is a big support in online learning at learning venues. Whereas the institution of university/college/school can provide technical facilities, infrastructure and basics of attendance through physical presence in online mode, if students miss crucial assignments they are counted as absent. Working under the rubric of technology mandates operating within the confines of network adapters, electricity, computers, servers, software, web browsers, routers, modems and more. If any one of these systems fail the connection becomes compromised resulting in loss of time. Since many teachers are utilizing Zoom calls and other video tools to conduct teaching and learning, it can be convenient for teachers to deliver recorded lectures, and derive some financial advantages as foreign universities. The students could benefit from noise-canceling headphones that allow them to focus on instruction. Moreover, headphones spare others, including house members to block out instructional videos or video chats. Discipline and focus: With most online degree programs