Distance learning in the TVET sector | Sunday Observer

Distance learning in the TVET sector

With the spread of COVID-19, some active measures have been taken to reduce risks to staff by enabling them to work from home.

Even though the institutes are closed for physical access, remote working is welcome with minimal disruption to operations where the academic community is encouraged to access their academic platforms through home networks.

University Learning Management System and remote learning facilities have been used to distribute and access course materials. The University Grants Commission (UGC) and Telecommunication Regulatory of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) has come to an agreement with network providers to provide free access to University LMS for the academic community during this period.

The Zoom video conferencing facility is made use of where possible and for those who have no knowledge of technology-based education, this is the best time to learn.

It is imperative to revisit educational taxonomies and methods quite deeply and indeed expeditiously where distance learning programs can be combined with traditional classroom instruction (called hybrid or blended). Massive open online courses (MOOCs), offering large-scale interactive participation and open access through the web or other network technologies, are recent educational modes in distance education.

A number of other terms (distributed learning, e-learning, m-learning, online learning, virtual classrooms) are used synonymously with distance education. Computer literacy, a critical factor in digital learning, has shown a positive trend during the past decade in Sri Lanka and smartphone penetration is said to be better than other Asian countries in the region. Statistics show widening opportunities for digital learning platforms in the Technical Vocational Educational and Training (TVET) sector. Therefore,? digital learning should be promoted as per the new government manifesto, which will benefit students and employed youths, who have teething troubles in access and affordability.

High drop out level

The TVET is a sector that records a high dropout level owing to a host of factors. The net resultant effect is not negligible in any means. Dropping out is a waste of time, money, effort and public resources.Under the circumstances, it would be prudent if the drop out is converted to an educational opportunity for a qualified successor via lateral entry and online mode of delivery. However, the level of enthusiasm is low and hence, it is important that an objective criterion of admission be adopted to ensure transparency and competitiveness via transparent mapping, prior learning credit assignment, test-cum-interview admission, a bond and an orientation program.

There is a need for a paradigm shift in lateral entry schemes which should be broad enough to address the concerns related to meritorious admission for government servants whose education is NVQ based in the case of TVET education. This could be a giant step where over 110,000 students seek vocational education annually.

Considering the prevailing situation and future programs, part of the NVQ level 3-4 courses can be conducted online with a properly administered e-learning system. However, a massive shift like this inevitably raises several questions. A case study was conducted in March and April this year to determine the challenges affecting the adoption of e-learning in six university colleges in Sri Lanka.

Recommendations

The study recommended a solution matrix implementable in three stages. The findings will help workout a digital policy and enhance the effectiveness of online delivery particularly in a future context similar to Covid-19.?

Among the immediate measures are: Maintain a vigorous presence on online discussion boards so they control discussion, provide answers and feedback, provide students with guidance on how best to approach their studies from home, keeping in mind how their movements or resources may be restricted, perform basic troubleshooting, give everyone an account for Zoom, offer online trauma counseling, set up virtual peer learning circles, seek zero-rate policies that facilitate learning via smartphone, make sure all online apps work on mobile devices, figure out how to buy or rent wi-fi hotspots and plan for devices and hotspots, asynchronous communication tools such as online chat channels, bulletin boards, discussion groups use to increase collaboration, experiment feedback systems, adopt GroupMe, Slack, and WhatsApp for class work, offer instructors advice on creating live, online classes through Zoom, Google Class or pre recorded lectures with Voice Thread, upgrade videos so it’ll be easier to watch them in places with slow internet, increase internet connectivity or subsidize data on mobiles, communicate with non-participants privately to encourage discussion, include virtual meetings, live chats or video tutorials to maintain a human connection, assign duos or small groups and organise live sessions where instructors encourage debate and answer questions.

Short term measures are to create a narrative for each class, use polls, virtual break-out rooms, videos and open questions to re-energise learners, diversify assessment formats, relying less on essays and written exams and instead embracing oral exams using Zoom or Skype, or having students produce podcasts, YouTube videos, posters or Prezi presentations that is shared online, use of online proctoring tools for assessments, provide mobile hotspots to students those who don’t have a usable internet connection to continue learning, encourage them to develop healthy study habits that will help them to manage anxiety; try to remain flexible with teaching approach, provide different modes of interaction; webcam; classrooms with dedicated infrastructure to video lectures; online learning platforms such as Canvas, Blackboard and Moodle and live-streaming options such as Zoom and Skype,? and offer short webinars in which instructors can quickly learn the basics of videoconferencing or how to get the most out of their learning-management system.

Digital innovations

It too can focus on facilitating flipped classrooms, Moocs and other digital innovations and provide practical tips shared by fellow faculty and staff on the popular messaging platform WeChat,? provide feedback through online knowledge checks, comments on collaborative documents and chat to keep students motivated and moving forward.

Long term measures could be e-learning policies to guide the implementation of online learning, increase funding for e-learning, ICT infrastructure, research, capacity building and awareness creation, relinquish copyrights to lecturers who write quality and peer-reviewed modules, and revisit cognitive and non-cognitive development with e-learning.

Hence, it is important to draft a roadmap for development of a distance learning system in the TVET sector having shared with all TVET institutes to take part in the development process. Key activities of the development roadmap encompass developing an eLearning strategy at the outset.

It is important to set up a proper e-book depository where the subject experts can individually surf the free packages available in the internet these days and collate the latest text books and various other e-stuff whatever they think useful and handover to the librarian to get this task done, faster and professionally, as per library standards. Revamping the existing modules and identifying online components and the components where the physical interaction is inevitable for example field work, lab work, and subjects such as mathematics, measurement in various surveying disciplines for example, operational research, statistics, etc.Revisiting all the e-materials disseminated online for copyright essentially warrant legal advice and a code of online delivery. Sponsoring a corporate account for Turnitin or any other reliable similarity check software available to all the staff is also unforgettable since there could be voluminous e-submissions.

The writer is attached to the University of Vocational Technology

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