As a teacher I have often wondered “how many in this class are actually understanding right now, what I am talking about?”. I have been teaching for close to 30 years or so now and way back when I was a rooky, a mentor told me that about 10% if you are lucky. In a class of sixty that is just six or less. I am sure many of my fellow teachers have wondered similarly although their judgements could be varying and I believe advent of technology did not improve this effectiveness either, just the stress of teaching reduced. I have always argued that it is not because the teacher is “bad” while many have made that remark and justified. I seem to be trying to understand the learning styles of our students and my mind travels to my student days, where I had friends who understood in the class and reinforced by studying; there were who stayed blank but could read from books discuss with others and understand; others let their friends teach which could only happen before exams and understood; and there were who found it difficult to understand some of the courses ever. Even in our classes, if we observe carefully, there are students who are good in laboratories and only after they have seen and experienced they understand, some are good with abstract concepts  and some are good with imagination some need to be hit on head with actual experiences to wake up to concepts while others can only assimilate with a lot of practice writing may be. All I am saying is that these are different styles of learning amongst students and perhaps different pace too. I am sure we want to add aptitudes to this list  In face to face teaching the teacher always struggles to cater to all paces and all styles and tries to get a middle path and quite often does not satisfy any one group fully. There are several models on learning styles and a lot has been said about aptitudes and pace of learning and we have taken easy route by classifying as more intelligent students and otherwise. The problem for teachers continues to remain that each one of these students with their varied styles, paces and attitudes; attains the learning objectives we have set for all students and our strategy of one size fits all has miserably failed to achieve this ability of understanding, critical thinking and analysing and creating that we have now classified for ourselves thanks to NBA, India. In face to face teaching we could change the strategy by truly understanding our student community and address the majority but it would still leave a substantial out of the race. Should we not be caring for learning outcomes of each of our students? At least as many as we can help learn. Because we need to recognise that we have possible Newtons, Archemedises, Aristotles, Plutoes, Arjunas and Aryabhattas amongst them and we must let them mature. 

We also have an examination model which is once again not only one size fits all but one style fits all. We seem to believe a three-hour written exam is a way to evaluate any type of learning outcomes we set. No wonder it gets reduced to a memory test in most cases, not withstanding many of our creative professors managing very successfully the questions to evaluate. But it still is suitable for some styles, some aptitudes and may be for some pace. The model deteriorates every time we try to make it suitable for all; thus destroying the purpose of the examination namely to measure, to differentiate and to equivocally certify the outcome achievements.

Online teaching gives us a tool to address as many different styles/aptitudes or paces we can recognise and set instructional packs accordingly. These instructional packs have to have carefully designed learning trajectories which the learner can chose as he goes along and come out a winner. Apparently, each trajectory has different activity to ensure the same learning outcome and students can chose as per their preference. In fact, each trajectory can have a suitable equivalent measurement mechanism to measure the outcomes of learning. A lot of work perhaps, but one time and every time one can keep improving over previous year. This can work for total online or blended modes with teacher intervention as mentor or leader setting learning targets and of course evaluating. Can different models of examination evaluate a learning outcome in the same fashion? Perhaps not. But worth exploring? Surely, we can explore different models for different levels of learning outcomes and learning objectives. COVID19 has given us an opportunity to explore, experiment and come up with some thing new and user-friendly without the usual opposition from the traditionalists, regulators, senior professors and even student groups.

This can only be implemented if teachers are given both autonomy as well as guidance as to how to go about these experiments. Let us not undermine the creativity of our teachers. Some of them would be rogues no doubt, but that is not a reason to punish the sincere well meaning, hard-working enthusiasts. But for this autonomy to come the leadership needs to change their mindset. At the regulator level the mind sets seem to be changing, they have provided autonomy to groups of affiliated institutions by forming universities, the universities in turn need to transfer this autonomy to the academic leadership and the academic leadership should resist the temptation to slave drive the teachers and share this autonomy with teachers and through a teaching learning model the teachers need to empower the students to learn and build capabilities and skills that are required for the future.

In conclusion, online framework gives us a golden opportunity to take into account different styles of learning amongst our students and address how we can empower their learning processes and attain the learning objectives. It also can get us away from the cardinal sin of evaluating a monkey, a tiger, a fish and a snake for their ability to fly, while neglecting the eagle because it did not get admission as it could not swim.

Dr. Shrihari Honwad

Author:
Dr. Shrihari Honwad
FIEE(I), MIIChE, MISTE, FEI (UK, London), C. Eng (UK), C. Energy Eng (UK)
He is a senior academician with administrative and governance experience, the exposure and and contributions to, various functions – from teaching at one end of spectrum to managing institutions at the other – defines his career.  Beginning as a teaching assistant with Industrial exposure, his career spans through a path where he became a researcher, and eventually a teacher. His progression in teaching career also saw responsibilities of Head of Department, Vice Principal, Principal of a College with 2000 students, Vice Chancellor of a university with 12000 students, etc come on his way. On Academic front too, He had the privilege of getting into Academic governance through Board of studies and Academic Council and Institutional governance through Board of Management and Board of Governors. He has experience of working in unitary, deemed and affiliating universities in India. He also had the opportunity to visit universities abroad in Spain, France, Turkey, Malaysia and Thailand. He believe in staying in touch with students through class room teaching while taking care of his responsibilities.

Professional Experience:
ProVost MIT World Peace University July 2018 till Jan 2020.
Vice-Chancellor, G D Goenka University, Aug 2017 till June 2018.
Vice-Chancellor, UNIVERSITY OF PETROLEUM AND ENERGY STUDIES, Dehradun,2009 till 2017.
Principal, D. J. Sanghvi College of Engineering, Vile Parle, Mumbai,1998 to 2009.
Assistant Professor,Bharati Vidyapeeth’s College of Engineering, Navi Mumbai,1996 to 1998.
Lecturer, Maharashtra Institute of Technology, Pune,1995 to 1996.
Lecturer, Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal, 1994 to 1995.
Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, 1986 to 1987.
Project Assistant, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, 1989.
Visited universities in Malaysia, Thailand, Spain, France, Turkey, apart from some of the premier Indian Institutes.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Very apt and timely. I would suggest the willing, experienced and bold teachers make themselves into 2 groups.

    First group to work on creating a package of learning with different trajectories – time, content and level for different sets of students, while striving for same or similar learning outcomes.

    Second group to develop Exam/Testing modules to target each of the above Learning Packages.

    Let these be up and about.

    The Regulators can then be dealt with.

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