“How much change has been brought by webinars and online classes?”

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From 2020 onwards, webinars and online teaching/learning have helped researchers, students and teachers immensely. With campuses closing down globally due to the covid19 pandemic, the only way to learn, teach, interact and communicate was through online modes and platforms such as Zoom, Teams, Meet, Webex, etc.

Webinars have certainly benefitted everyone because they have eliminated the cost and time involved in travelling and in most cases, also eliminated the huge participation fees. Staying at home, one can now attend the webinars in any part of the globe and interact with students, researchers and teachers in any university or research lab. It also helps that these webinars are available for offline viewing or one can record these webinars (after taking due permissions from the host). Most colleges and universities have wekly webinars by their different departments. Some of the webinars have seen over a 1000 participants.

Online education has been the BIG beneficiary in these two years although most teachers and students feel that in the present form atleast, it cannot replace traditional classroom teaching. Nevertheless, online education has brought about a paradigm shift. Just as the bank ATM machines enabled “any time and anywhere money”, online education has enabled “education – anytime, anywhere, for everyone”. The cost of online education may not be substantially lower, though. The range of courses one can pursue online is very vast. Online courses are especially suited for skill-based subjects like accountancy, taxation, information technology, computer science. Subjects like philosophy, political science, sociology, mathematics may however need some form of blended learning. The best part is one can join a course, test it for some time or maybe do it for free and when ready, appear for the exam. So its not just “anytime, anywhere education”, its also “anytime exams” or “exams, when you are ready”.

Online teaching has also affected how teachers teach and what they teach. Teachers can no longer evaluate students based on fact-based question because the answers can be easily googled. Questions have to be framed to test deeper knowledge of the subject, or critique type questions. Multiple-choice questions (MCQs) based on Google forms serve a very limited purpose. Teachers who were earlier reluctant to use technology are now doing exceptionally well with online sessions conducted from their mobile devices and laptops.

Online exams is however, a different story altogether. Proctored exams are being conducted but the question is how effective are these proctored exams to check malpractices. Till this issue is resolved, results of online exams may not be the sole criteria to judge a student’s understanding of the subject. So as a student moves from one class to another, bridge courses and oral (viva) exams will be needed.

Online teaching and learning has given a boost to a new training industry where short term online courses are available in a wide range of subjects. Udemy, Udacity, EdX, NPTEL, Coursera, etc are some of the platforms that offer these courses for free or a very low cost. YouTube is a treasure-trove for learning almost anything. However, it remains to be seen whether industry and acdemia will accept certificates and degrees from online education. Even now, we find many organisations in India stating clearly that students who have pursued online mode of education / distance education are not eligible to apply for various posts. This has to change.

With the very rapid advances in augmented reality, virtual reality, gaming, and 5G, online education and webinars are in for exciting times.

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