What do we have to do to get it right?
Many universities worldwide have adopted online learning with the objective of catering education to students dispersed geographically. Such forms of teaching evolved especially in North America from the mid-90s, when the World Wide Web started evolving, and tech giants like Altavista, Yahoo!, and AOL came up with features to attract users online.
The online university concept was also adopted in parallel with the existing teaching mode in UK universities early in the 2000s. Notable universities that have adopted such online learning in the UK (considering its excellence in teaching and research) include Durham, Manchester, Oxford, UCL, Warwick, and Reading. Since these universities are heavily engineering and science-based, they have adopted a new form of teaching pedagogy which can be termed as “blended learning.”
Why online learning?
When inherent problems exist in the city, like traffic congestion, the inability to get accurate and able staff for teaching courses, and universities being located in rural locations, it becomes imperative for innovative universities to hire staff located in places far from their geographical campuses.
In Europe, Italian universities in the mid-2000s used to hire German and British professors to teach engineering and business in their institutions. Eventually, the quality of their teaching enhanced, and made them reach such heights.
Secondly, students also consider studying from a distance. The learning process is more of concentration: Students in Europe and the US learn courses considering the targets, which the market demands.
Jobs are created through training in universities. A degree is more like equipping a candidate with the skills and abilities for traits needed for certain positions within organizations. Hence, the learning process adopted in most universities in the UK (for instance) concentrates on knowledge creation and knowledge assimilation by students.
In order to achieve such twined objectives, it is observed that UK universities, being mostly situated in cities, prefer students to take their study load out from the campus into their dorms so that they can concentrate and work from there. Theses dorms are usually located far from their locality.
For instance, the University of Sunderland in the UK has most of its dorms located around the River Wear. Hence, beyond class hours, students use the online technologies and resources to work from home.
Thirdly, due to the present pandemic conditions, most universities worldwide have adopted online learning. It is interesting to know that several students studying in the UK left when the pandemic outbreak started, and returned home. But since, they have made their tuition payments and have resorted to online classrooms.
Lastly, online learning is a criterion set by ranking and accreditation bodies. For instance, QS prefers universities to have parallel online learning environments. Malaysian universities under the leadership of former Education Minister Dr Mazlee Malik have reached high standards in ranking as they have adopted both traditional teaching and online courses.
The QS rankings indicate that online learning makes Malaysian universities more credible in terms of demonstrating excellence in research and teaching, because the issue of transferability in teaching outcomes is achieved.
Assessment procedures to adopt
In most traditional assessments, we have two types of assessments: Formative vs summative. Formative assessment or continuous assessment provides students with suitable and regular feedback on mastery of the course.
It also ensures that the learning outcomes are being achieved by the pupil as he/she progresses on with the course. On the other hand, summative assessment is used to provide students with an evaluation of what he/she has achieved in a comprehensive perspective. In essence, it reflects the conclusions about mastery by the learner in achieving the course learning objectives.
In order to answer the question of what aspects of student learning can we assess online, we need to consider two features of online learning: (a) Interactivity and collaborative learning and (b) collective construction of knowledge. We bring you below the different assessment tools that can be adopted online, which serve as appropriate measures of cognitive levels in Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objective.
Knowledge: Multiple choice, true/ false, matching, fill in the gaps, short answers, flash cards, games, and quizzes
Comprehension: Simulations, animations, and tutorials
Application: Multiple choice, short answers, essay, tutorials, simulations, games, case studies Analysis/synthesis/evaluation: Multiple choice short essay, project, portfolio, simulation, presentation, paper, virtual labs, case studies
The application of these forms of assessment in the virtual learning environment is a challenge for the academics. The challenge also further accumulates if the appropriate learning management system (LMS) is not adopted. Moreover, the availability of course authoring tools and the knowledge of using them varies across academics.
Too often, academics post in the lesson as a power-point slide on the LMS: They deem that the student will go through the power- point and prepare themselves for an assessment. Teaching online is not only posting content; it is more about engagement with students.
This engagement takes the form of assessment, and the academic is the architect to make the engagement effective through his/her skills in course authoring. When content created is lucrative, it leads to building interest in the students and enhances learning.
In the context of this country, most universities in Bangladesh have resorted to using Google Classroom or Sudokho (a Bangladesh built software). However, it is worth mentioning that Google Classroom is meant for K-12 classes and was built in for that purpose. Moreover, course authoring tools such as Socrative cannot be adopted in Google Classroom.
Sudokho has several limitations and needs upgradation to facilitate higher education teaching. And, teaching online is not only delivering lectures through Zoom. The proponents of Zoom have not considered the absence of connectivity of students located in rural locations. Not only that, Zoom does not provide facilities for other features, which are provided through validated LMS.
So, what is the solution? For an LMS, most experts in education recommend resorting to open source applications such as Moodle. However, Moodle’s limitations lie in its customization. Universities like World University of Bangladesh, IUBAT, Brac, and ULAB have already customized Moodle to fit in with all assessment features as mentioned above.
The features of online class are also achieved via Moodle with plug-ins. Hence, the future in education in this country lies not only in choosing the right LMS, but also in the creativity in course authoring by academics, leading to accurate assessment of teaching online.
Abdul Mannan Choudhury, PhD is Professor and Vice-Chancellor, World University of Bangladesh. Musfiq Mannan Choudhury, PhD, is Professor, University of Dhaka.