Excellence in education is all about the teacher – never about the medium.
Reflect on your own learning journey; do you have a teacher (lecturer, instructor or tutor) who stands out? Someone who empowered you and enabled you to learn; someone who made a particular subject seem irresistible or inspired you to embrace life-long learning?
With students everywhere studying online, some teachers, despite the medium, will be marvellous. They do need to master the online platforms they use, but with proficiency they can make the technology all but ‘disappear’ and continue to inspire the learners who depend on them.
This moment in time presents an exciting opportunity for teachers and students everywhere. The internet is here and many remarkable learning tools are available. Dedicated and agile education providers can facilitate a learning experience for a student which is dynamic, interactive and innovative.
It is also an approach to education excellence that does not discriminate. It can reach into the remotest of global and rural corners, around full-time work, and out of the way of an insidious pandemic.
Education providers must, however, be mindful of students who lack the necessary network infrastructure. But never underestimate the determination of learners; owning a mobile phone can suffice. Those who design education for online learners must target this device.
It is the greatest mistake to hurriedly equate online education with flexibility. Students must meet those brilliant teachers in real time if they are to remain engaged in their learning experience. So, promote your inflexible online learning proudly; schedule your lessons and tutorials and take role call! Offer students flexibility and your attrition and failure rates will rocket.
Having exhorted you to embrace inflexibility, all online platforms offer learners enormous flexibility too. If a scheduled live webinar/tutorial cannot be attended, the recorded session – sent to all in the class – can be reviewed any number of times and at the students’ leisure.
Furthermore, readings, videos, pre-recorded lectures, and online remote and virtual labs are all available 24/7.
Now that the stuff of learning is progressing apace, students will need to be assessed! Can online education work if academic integrity cannot be assured? Again, software emerges as the saviour. There are packages such as IRIS (irisinvigilation.com) which have even outdone the human invigilator. It ably detects students trying to cut corners because it has the ears and eyes of a proctor or monitor – but one who never blinks.
Many, however, remain sceptical about the real scope of an online platform. How can it enable students to develop skills? How can learning be contextualised? And how can those overarching concepts, ideas and knowledge be applied?
For some subjects and skills this will prove impossible. Teaching someone to resuscitate an unresponsive adult, for example; a student requires a volunteer or a life-size manikin on which to practice. And a mere 15 to 20 years ago an engineering student could not have applied his newly acquired knowledge outside of a laboratory or on a real work site.
With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the 4th Industrial Revolution, however, this has all changed. In fact, the engineering industry itself has changed; much of what is accomplished on site is dependent on the internet and on technology. It is this that has allowed students to apply and test their knowledge on real equipment via remote labs, to access engineering plants via simulations and to experiment on various engineering applications and tools via virtual labs.
To calculate the temperature change and response time for different thermocouple and RTD installations, for example, students can log into a data logger remotely (as pictured below).
Differential Thermocouple Configuration:
Rahm Emanuel, a former mayor of Chicago, said:
“Never let a crisis go to waste. ….it is an opportunity to do things you could not do before”
This is our crisis and our opportunity. We are living in uncertain times, but we must continue to offer education excellence; to inspire and prepare our students for work and for a world which will inevitably present them with new challenges and change.