Rethinking higher education policy in Digital Bangladesh
The Covid-19 pandemic has raised significant challenges as well as opportunities for the higher education community worldwide to learn and explore. During the pandemic, the shifting from traditional face-to-face education to online was not an easy journey for many institutions across the world - a bunch of changes in terms of digital competencies, pedagogical knowledge, psychosocial counselling, varied levels of interaction, engagement and assessment strategies, support structures, etc. were required to be adopted in the institutional policies and practices. Now, at the post-pandemic, should we go back to the traditional face-to-face education leaving all these remarkable shifts or changes behind?-Certainly not. Then what should be our strategies at the post-Covid education system in a digital world?
In the 4th industrial revolution era with the high speed of Internet, the post-Covid education is expected to be neither fully online nor face-to-face but rather phygital. Let's start by understanding digital learning, which can be defined as any type of learning that is accompanied by digital technology or by instructional practice that makes effective use of it. A new trend called phygital (a blend of physical and digital space, phygital = physical + digital) learning is gaining popularity in recent times.
It is the concept of using technology to integrate the digital learning space with the physical world for the purpose of providing a unique interactive experience to the learners.Phygital is more comprehensive than digital or face-to-face education and it is NOT blended learning as the latter does not blend the best practices of face-to-face and online education instead operates both singly.
To ensure digital education at the higher education sector, each university should have a customized and centrally managed learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard or at least Google Classroom. Besides, smart-education type platform is important to have for monitoring, management and accountability of all academic and administrative tasks. Universities should provide necessary arrangements to ensure that all teachers and staff effectively use these platforms regularly. Modern LMS integrates web conferencing, learning analytics, video engagement, interactive digital contents and mobile applications, thus its usage enables changes in the quality of education.
There is no alternative of professional development in digital education system, particularly for reducing the gap of practices in the academia and industry as well as for developing ethics and professionalism of teachers. Each teacher should submit a monthly report with evidence following a rubric, comprising 8-10 aspects. Altogether, these approaches may have significant impacts on quality education if universities monitor and oversee these tasks regularly and sincerely.
Few of the public and private universities, such as Daffodil International University, Brac University, North South University, Bangabandhu Digital University, Bangladesh University of Professionals, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology have been doing good in digital education sector since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Daffodil International University started digital education officially through the establishment of Blended Learning Center in 2013. Currently the university has integrated numerous solutions for conducting teaching-learning digitally which includes but not limited to its own LMS, MOOC platform, Smart-Edu system, etc. Distribution of more than 30 thousand free laptops to students under the campaign of 'One Student, One Laptop' has played an important part in the university's digital progress.
Recently, North South University has introduced Canvas LMS and Brac University introduced edX platform for their students. Among the public universities Bangabandhu Digital University, Bangladesh University of Professionals, Shahjalal University and few others are continuing education online through different platforms since the very beginning of the pandemic.
In our assessment system 70-80 percent marks are assigned to summative exams for mid-term and semester final, which does not commensurate at all to the modern assessment strategy followed around the world. On the other hand, online proctored exams do not have much success stories particularly at this region.
Thus, mixed approach of assessment could be effective, for example, 60-70 percent marks for creative assignment, quiz, case studies, presentation, project development, etc. and the rest 30-40 percent marks could be allocated for traditional type of examinations. A consortium could be formed by including Bangladesh Open University, National University, and Union Digital Center. This may result in high quality blended and online education particularly assessment, counselling, video streaming like services to all utilizing their nationwide large physical infrastructures.
Online education should be patronized and liberalized through standardization of policies. The policy must follow a standard set of criteria, which may include but not limited to: (i) years of experience in blended, online & digital education; (ii) infrastructural resources (e.g. IT); (iii) human resources (w.r.t. digital and pedagogical competency); (iv) rigorous quality assurance; (v) periodic compliance requirement; (vi) proper documentation and reporting of student feedback; (vii) support system; (viii) professional development options; (ix) incorporation of teaching-learning analytics; (x) educational guidance and counselling, among others.
Only two public universities in Bangladesh have mandates to offer online education and training. However, Bangladesh is yet to mark its presence in the global online education industry, which could be the third biggest source of earning revenues after remittance and garment industry, if this sector is given due importance and carefully versioned straightaway.
The writer is digital education expert & director, Blended Learning Centre, Daffodil International University