In view of the governmental decree regarding reopening of educational institutions during the pandemic, it is imperative that teaching practices be reconsidered and restructured as well. Lessons learned during the disruption in educational activities vis-a-vis virtual learning should drive our educators to change their strategy. Creation of the new normal seems to be imminent and may go beyond the current pandemic.
Restructuring anew modes of education may open doors for more equitable quality education for all. The prevailing concerns may give rise to new initiatives by education stakeholders to transform classroom practices and create academic ambience for both teachers and students. The new normal will hopefully drive educational authorities to design a sustainable framework for a need-based curriculum and provide a repertoire of learning modules keeping in view the new dimensions in the education sector.
The Urban Dictionary (2009) describes new normal as the situation coming about after some intense change has taken place. Considering the new normal Covid-19 period, a rethinking of our strategy to deal with the situation is the need of the hour. In China, more than 180 million children were confined to their homes, but education continued only through a variety of electronic textbooks and online courses.
In India, considering the constraints faced by us in providing virtual learning, there is a growing need to devise a hybrid system of online and offline education. Despite the efforts made by our educators, students, in general, did not take full advantage of the technological tools in learning during the previous few months. In fact, the tools were not used effectively by teachers as well for they had not been properly trained to integrate them in 21st century pedagogy.
In the new normal, teachers should transform how they teach online, especially since online tools and resources present lots of affordances that teachers and students can take advantage of. They need to design effective synchronous and asynchronous learning activities that enable sustained engagement, self-regulation, voice and choice in students.
Blended learning is also known as the new normal in the education sector today. This may be described as an instructional approach that integrates traditional classroom methods of face-to-face interaction and online digital methods. In some developed countries, blended learning has already become an established educational modality to cope with the impact of the pandemic. Blended learning requires an amount of traditional classroom modality. Considering the social distance group work approach, peer instruction might be modified or reduced. There can be the use of methods that require less movement and physical contact. Direct instruction methods may keep the students less active.
Through machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI), adaptive programs have been developed that care for the individual needs of the students. AI tutors can be used in teaching subjects like mathematics and can be applied in all levels of technology. AI can be used in schools to enhance personalised learning among students, especially those with special needs. Virtual Reality technology is already the catchword in the technology world, with which students can learn via interacting with a 3D world. In introducing experimental learning in schools through VR, google has been a byword.
Educational resources can be accessed from any part of the world, thanks to cloud computing technology. Virtual resources such as written lessons, audio lessons, video assignments etc. can be stored on an institution’s cloud terminal. Students can access the resources from the comforts of their homes and complete/submit their assignments.
Textbook contents can be expressed through 3D models. In higher education, 3D printing is used by system designers to develop prototypes to be used in the development of final systems. The implementation of technical innovations in the education sector has been accentuated by the widespread access to the Internet. Self-learning modules (SLM) with the alternative learning delivery modalities to be offered for various types of learners may also be provided.
It is interesting that during the pandemic parents became teachers and started understanding the online learning activities that educational institutions created for their wards ~ a new setup for which parents were not at all ready. In the new normal there should be a stronger home and school partnership. The school can create opportunities that teaches parents how to navigate the online learning environment and guide their wards at home. In the new normal, sustainable external partnership with local government units and non-government organisations that can help in enabling a responsive educational continuity programme may be explored.
Indeed, the pandemic has taught skills of flexibility, adaptability and empathy to face any eventually. These are invaluable skills. Giving out students opportunities to practice and develop these skills is one way of preparing them for life beyond the virtual walls of classroom Teaching them to empathise with others can make the the new normal more bearable. In the new normal the right to high quality education may always be upheld by providing multiple pathways to learning.
What kind of assessments can be properly used and how much of parental involvement is permissible to ensure that students demonstrate mastery of learning virtually depends on the effort made to adjust with the new normal.
Assessments and grades should be reviewed so that they continue to be relevant to students. Giving students continuous feedback can help them reflect on their strengths and find ways to improve.
Different instructional evaluation practices have been adopted as a response to Covid-19 which may be a part of the new normal education. Many schools have issued guidelines changing many aspects of evaluation components of the curriculum. In the synchronous form, teachers and students are required to work together at an arranged time through an online application like Zoom. It can also be achieved on the phone. In the asynchronous form, teachers and learners do not need to interact online.
Many schools have decided to change their assessment scales from quantitative to qualitative, such as the pass-fail system. The usual quantitative assessment practice is expected to be dominant in the new normal. The pandemic is continuously reshaping instructional evaluation and so online assessment and grading systems are inevitable.
With the new sessions being postponed, online teaching and learning will be more regular in the new normal. We will see more classes being conducted through web video conferencing. Institutions may use a learning management system, such as Google Classroom, Moodle, Blackbeard Learn and Canvas to enable students to complete assignments, deliver presentations, take assessments, and receive feedback from teachers.
A rise in the Open Education Resources (OER) as an inexpensive alternative to traditional textbooks may be perceived in the new normal. A wide range of content and tools to help implement OER Commons, Lumen Learning, Merlot II, Open Slax CNX may be offered by many sites. Blended learning approaches may be commonly used; many Institutions may start combining blended learning with a flipped classroom approach. In a flipped classroom, the typical classroom lecture and homework elements are reversed.
Efforts may be devoted to developing long distance and offline multimedia teaching modes and learning systems with offline learning methods for bridging the digital divide that can allow users to study courses using their personal computer as well as allowing faculty to track their learning. Most institutions may invest in learning design by hiring instructional designers and educational technology consultants. The new normal in education will require us to unlearn what we have always known rows of desks, heavy bags, chalk and talk systems, public examinations.
The writer, former Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata, is with Rabindra Bharati University