The outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic has affected human life in such a way that everything has almost become standstill in most parts of the world. In fact, it turns out to be historically unprecedented with respect to its worldwide spread by infecting and killing several lakhs of people in 213 countries and territories.
In India also the infection due to novel coronavirus has been increasing very fast in recent times and the number of such cases has already crossed six lakhs with mortality rate of 2.9 per cent as against world’s 4.8 per cent.
The formal education in school, college and university which basically involves teaching-learning in physical class-room environment has been completely disrupted by the pandemic.
Simultaneously, the examinations relating to promotion and admission to next higher classes and recruitment for various jobs have also been affected. The situation has become such that formation of large gathering in schools, colleges, conferences, sports events, etc and movement of people for long distance have become almost impossible due to safety reason for some more time.
It is, however, striking enough to note that, although the threat due to Covid-19 has been on the rise across the globe, the basic package of treatment which was there in the beginning, such as hand sanitization, social distancing, wearing of facial mask, quarantining and isolation, improvement of immunity, maintenance of health hygiene, and in extreme cases lockdown, still continues in absence of much needed vaccine for its control.
But, on the other hand, the globally affected teaching-learning has brought about some sort of a revolution through the penetration and effective use of IT supported by global communication network. It is true that the effectiveness of direct mode of teaching-learning in physical presence of learners and teachers in a class-room environment can never be replaced by a virtual class-room through online mode.
This is more so in the case of lab-oriented learning. Moreover, many school students find online learning stressful for not being able to meet their friends. But, in the event of a crisis like the present pandemic or any other crisis situation the online mode of teaching-learning safely sitting at home proves to be an important alternative. It appears that as if the development of web-based online teaching was pre-conceived looking into the possibility of occurrence of this COVID pandemic.
In fact, the technology associated with internet and computer-based video-conferencing called web conferencing, which fulfills the basic requirement of online teaching-learning, has been in use globally since late 1990s.
It allows real-time (Live) point-to-point communications from one sender to many receivers across geographically dispersed locations in the world in the forms of text messages, voice and video chat and screen sharing through PPTs, etc.
Some of the basic applications of web conferencing include meetings, training events, lectures or presentations, workshops, seminars, symposia, conferences, online teaching, etc in virtual modes from a web-connected computer to other web-connected computers in dispersed locations.
In the initial stage Microsoft NetMeeting, WebEx Meeting, etc had been the popular platforms for web conferencing mostly used for business meeting, group discussion, official or job-related interview, etc. However, with the advancement in the technology and expansion of capabilities and applications over time the web conferencing has emerged as a wonderful option for distant mode of video interaction.
It has also proved to be most cost effective, time saving and zero movement technology. Some of the currently best used and popular web conferencing software platforms include Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex Meetings, Google Meet, Cisco Webex Teams, Blue Jeans, Skype and Join me.
In view of fast rise in COVID-19 infection cases and continued extension of lockdown since March 25 in India, the opening of educational institutions has become almost uncertain, and hence online mode of teaching-learning has emerged as an alternative savior for continuation of academic activities among the students.
Apart from the Universities and colleges, most of the private schools located in the urban and semi-urban areas have been involved in online teaching for the last three months in order to keep the students in touch with their studies during lockdown and to mentally and academically prepare for their examinations.
Although in some cases pre-video-recorded classes are provided to the students through institutional website, Google classroom and Youtube and required study materials in PDF are shared with students through email and WhatsApp, the web conferencing mode of online teaching-learning is found to be more popular among the students due to its live classroom activity between teachers and students.
When the number of students in such virtual classroom is less, even one to one interaction and question-answer with students in order to know whether the students have understood any lesson or subject taught, is easily possible like that of a usual classroom. Similarly, revision test or unit test among the school students in oral mode or writing mode by keeping video on is also being done by some teachers. Besides, online examination particularly in MCQ format among all categories of students using Google form, etc is being conducted very easily.
Utilizing the web conferencing facilities many Universities including JNU have already started conducting Ph.D. viva-voce examination connecting the distant external expert online. This system of conducting viva not only saves University money but also overcomes pandemic or such other situation.
The ongoing Covid situation has also greatly affected holding of pre-scheduled seminar/conference in the colleges, universities and other organizations across the country. But, it is observed that this problem has also been overcome by organizing such events online in the form of webinars in most parts of the country.
As this system of holding conference does not involve travel and many other organizational expenses, very renowned experts from any place of the world can be invited as resource persons, and as such the webinar has become very popular and useful means of sharing knowledge about various global, national and local issues among the participants.
In view of these advantages, holding of number of such webinars and web-conferences has increased tremendously during this lockdown period. This is also true in the case of holding online workshop and training programme by various institutions, organizations, agencies and individuals.
In view of certain facilities available in such web conferencing platforms including screen sharing and breakout rooms for group discussion simultaneously, conduct of various educational, business, administrative and extra-curricular (physical exercise, dance, music, art, etc) workshop and training among various categories of target groups has become very common during this pandemic situation.
Looking at many advantages of such online teaching-learning and many other programmes including cost effectiveness, time saving, zero movement, time flexibility, etc this web conferencing is going to more popular in near future.
This system is also going to further develop the ongoing distance education. At the same time some educational apps like Meritnation, Byju’s, UnfoldU, myCBSEguide; educational websites like e-Diksha, e-Pathsala, Digital Library, Shodh Ganga; and TV channels like Swayam Prabha, Gyan Darshan and various other TV and radio proagrammes are getting popular these days among respective categories of students and researchers.
Moreover, in the event of shortage of faculties in the colleges and universities, this online system can effectively fill the gap with involvement of minimum cost. Similarly, due to growth of global e-library and ejournal the pressure to library has significantly decreased.
Hence, there is a possibility of combining both physical classroom and virtual classroom teaching on 80-20 or 60-40 basis particularly in the colleges and universities in coming days. However, this would be successful only when uninterrupted web network and power supply is ensured and minimum gadget, one smart phone or laptop, is made available to all users across length and breadth of the country.
Dr Bimal Kumar Kar is professor and former head at Gauhati University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org