Commentary: It is time to rethink how we do online education
There is a lack of adoption of education technology solutions in schools in Singapore – a gap that has been highlighted by COVID-19, says Nick Hutton.
SINGAPORE: According to the joint guidance issued by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), schools in countries that have confirmed transmission of the novel coronavirus have been urged to support students holistically and through strategies such as remote learning as the world copes with this emerging health crisis.
As of Apr 26, 189 countries across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America have implemented school and university closures. Singapore is one of them.
Schools and colleges have been rolling out virtual instruction and online learning, allowing students to continue their studies without interruption.
Naturally, there is a surge in the demand for high-quality and effective learning solutions to bridge the transition into home-based learning.
Some of the leading institutes of higher learning in our country like the Singapore Management University and Singapore Institute of Technology have been ahead of the curve in embracing technology and integrating online learning in their curriculum.
However, for most other institutions, this is all a bit sudden and they have minimal experience in online learning solutions. Before the pandemic, online learning solutions were considered as a "nice to have" option but now they have become a necessity.
PRIVACY AND SECURITY
The Edutech industry is set to be worth in excess of US$252 billion (S$357 billion) by the end of 2020.
With an estimated future market value of US$5 trillion, it is easy to see the scale of the opportunities at hand.
However, with its current value sitting at only 5.4 per cent of the entire education sector, Edutech is still far from reaching its full potential.
No wonder then that there is a lack of adoption of education technology solutions in schools in Singapore – a gap that has been highlighted by COVID-19.
Right now, educational institutions in Singapore are forced to adopt the quickest and most easily available online learning solutions at hand. And, there is no doubt that apps like Zoom and Hangouts are helping the world survive.
From home-based learning to parent-teacher-meets - everything is easily possible on these platforms.
The thing is parents will be more receptive to Edutech only if they are sure that it is a safe space with one of the biggest challenges with online learning solutions is ensuring privacy and security.
Unfortunately, hackers are already taking advantage of the pandemic to prey on unsuspecting online learners.
Earlier this month, there were hacking incidents reported by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore when some classes on video-conferencing platform Zoom were hijacked mid-stream, with pornography shown.
For a brief period, the MOE banned the use of Zoom apps in Singapore schools after this incident.
However, MOE has progressively allowed schools to resume the use of Zoom after introducing three additional layers of defence.
They include an all-encompassing "security button" which consolidates the conferencing platform's security features.
The lesson here is that if an incident of this magnitude can happen on a global video-conferencing app like Zoom, one can only imagine the limitations of unverified small organisations.
Security is one of the most important concerns when it comes to online learning solutions, however, it is not the only concern when it comes to online education.
GOING BEYOND VIRTUAL CLASSROOMS
Education is not just about imparting the syllabus in whatever means possible - it entails tracking progress, sharing feedback, interacting with students and helping them learn in a holistic manner.
With artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, technology today provides the tools to take education to an altogether different level.
Then, why are we limiting it to virtual classrooms?
As the education sector embraces digital transformation as a necessity, amidst this pandemic, it is barely scratching the surface.
With the current means being used, education has almost been reduced to content dissemination.
Eventually, the priority needs to shift from finding the quickest option at hand that broadcasts information to finding solutions that capitalise on the relationship between students and teachers to augment teaching and create learning personalisation and independence.
HOLISTIC ONLINE LEARNING WITH LMS
As students’ expectations around technology-enabled learning rise, now that they have had a taste of it, they will seek flexible alternatives to traditional on-campus learning models even after the pandemic.
Educational institutions need to move beyond Zoom classes and embrace online learning holistically.
One way to do that is via the Learning Management System (LMS) - an online platform where you can develop, administer and track educational programmes and courses.
LMSs are used to create and deliver curriculums that students can follow both online and offline. You can provide all types of content that include videos, courses and documents while managing and tracking everything online.
LMSs include features such as rubrics, discussion boards, a syllabus and teacher-led learning.
It is secure, easily accessible and allows for student-teacher interaction. Additionally, an LMS is far more secure than live streaming online platforms that are free to the public.
For starters, all users are authenticated before they are granted access. A reliable LMS uses cryptographic protocols and encryption to ensure the confidentiality and security of user data.
Plus, there is an asynchronous encrypted data transfer to off-site storage to ensure that client services can be restored in the event of a disaster.
With standard compliance regulations for data integrity and confidentiality in place, institutions can opt for certified LMS service providers for maximum security.
READ: Commentary: As laptop use rises with WFH, users vulnerable to hackers taking control over webcams
Some LMSs integrate live streaming capability in a seamless manner, like the one deployed by SIM Global Education, which can deliver a virtual classroom experience while allowing users to access related learning content, all done within a secured environment.
The LMS market is already booming.
According to a report by Market Research, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to be the fastest-growing LMS market in the coming years, with the highest compound annual growth rate of over 19.75 per cent during the years 2019 to 2027.
Several countries in the region, including Singapore, China, Japan and South Korea have adopted LMS solutions in their educational institutes owing to the growing Edutech industry and ever-increasing mobile usage and internet penetration.
Key industry stakeholders have realised the significance of effective integration between connected devices in the eLearning process. Students are increasingly accessing online learning on mobile devices.
Increasing computing power and rich features on these devices make for a dynamic and holistic learning experience. Institutions offering post-secondary education need to embrace mobile learning to engage students and provide them with better accessibility.
The one size fits all approach that has dominated education for so long does not work anymore. Using an LMS allows teachers to identify areas of weakness and assign work to help each individual student improve. Custom made study plans in this manner are the future of education.
IMMERSIVE LEARNING FOR BETTER ENGAGEMENT
Immersive learning or blended learning is yet another way in which technology can make education more holistic, interactive and insightful.
With immersive learning, students can be engaged through an artificial environment that simulates situations, in which the information could be applied. Traditional immersive learning approaches involve field trips or adaptive learning in the classroom.
A focused example of this could be flight simulator training for pilot-learning schools or virtual dissections during biology classes.
An added benefit to the online simulations is that students can practice repeatedly with no time limitations or peer pressure giving them better opportunities for success.
Simulations like this are great homework assignments or practice assessments to support face-to-face instruction. Immersive learning is a great way to create competency-based programmes and is also an authentic assessment tool.
And, with the ever-increasing growth of augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality and extended reality, immersive learning experiences can be richer and more effective now.
ACTIVE LEARNING WITH VIRTUAL WHITEBOARDS
Research shows that one-third of instructors who try online teaching eventually end up with passive classes. Perhaps a key reason is that some fail to exploit the full potential of web conferencing tools to overcome passivity.
This is where virtual whiteboards can be used to influence student motivation levels by creating an active learning environment.
First, it is important to understand that a virtual whiteboard is different from an interactive whiteboard.
A virtual whiteboard is basically a software solution that includes white-boarding functions like writing, drawing, and annotating.
Virtual or digital whiteboards often exist as part of a software suite, online, or both for easy sharing and collaboration.
These online whiteboards are versatile teaching tools that allow screen recording, screen sharing, virtually infinite board space, multimedia options, multi-device integration as well as remote input.
Virtual whiteboards not only work as a means of delivering content but they allow collaborations within lessons and saving results for review or re-use.
The rush of rolling out online learning may leave a sour taste about home-based learning and this could impact the decision of whether schools are revolutionised by the experience or will revert to what they know.
However, to be ready for a better, more holistic online education system, schools need to embrace technology in the form of more holistic solutions like the LMS and move beyond content dissemination eventually.
Nick Hutton is the Regional Director of Asia at D2L.