The deadly spread of COVID-19 has brought a major change in the education system of our country. Keeping in mind the current situation, the University Grants Commission (UGC) is drafting a concept note on a "blended mode of teaching and learning" in varsities and colleges.

UGC has announced that higher educational institutions (HEI) will be allowed to teach 40 per cent of any course online and the rest 60 % can be taught offline. The panel set by UGC has even sought suggestions and feedback from various stakeholders on the draft concept note by June 6.

For the unversed, UGC suggested teaching 30 per cent of the courses in the online mode to all the universities in the guidelines released last year, but due to the lack of sufficient equipment and services, many varieties were not able to follow it.

UGC on advantages of blended learning for students

Talking about the advantages of blended learning for students amid the spread of COVID-19 across the country, the draft suggested that it will not only increase learning skills amongst the students but will also give them greater access to information.

According to the draft, "improved satisfaction and learning outcomes and opportunities both to learn with others and to teach others," will come from blended learning techniques.

UGC Secretary Rajnish Jain said, "The UGC had decided that HEIs should be allowed to teach up to 40 per cent of each course through online mode and the remaining 60 per cent of the concerned courses can be taught offline mode. Exams for teaching under both modes can be conducted online."

The panel believes that blended learning will provide acceptability of many modes of learning, including that of face-to-face learning, online learning and distance or virtual mode.

Here's what the UGC draft on blended learning suggested:

1. Blended learning is not a mere mix of online and face-to-face mode, but it refers to a well-planned combination of meaningful activities in both modes.

2.The blend demands consideration of several factors, mainly focussing on learning outcomes and the learner-centred instructional environment.

3. The concept that has been prepared in accordance with the new National Education Policy (NEP) suggests "Given the emergence of digital technologies and the emerging importance of leveraging technology for teaching-learning at all levels from school to higher education."

4. The NEP-2020 states that while promoting digital learning and education, the importance of face-to-face in-person learning is fully recognised.

5. The press note exclaimed those different effective models of blended learning will be identified for appropriate replication for different subjects.

Blending learning will define a teacher's role: UGC

The blended learning mode will not only be beneficial for the students, but also for the teachers. "Blended learning shifts the teacher’s role from knowledge provider to coach and mentor. This shift does not mean that teachers play a passive or less important role in students’ education," the note said.

"Quite the contrary -- with blended learning, teachers can have an even more profound influence and effect on students’ learning," it added.

The note highlighted the importance of a new form of learning and stated, "Traditionally, classroom instruction has largely been teacher-directed, top-down, and one-size-fits-all, with a bit of differentiation thrown in, but with blended learning, it now becomes more student-driven, bottom-up, and customised, with differentiation as the main feature."

UGC's new assessment and evaluation pattern for students

In order to implement blended learning as a new mode of teaching-learning in higher education, the UGC suggested that the pattern of assessment and evaluation will also be changed.

The draft said, "Continuous comprehensive evaluation should be encouraged in universities and colleges. Summative evaluation strategies including open book examination, group examinations even for conventional theory papers, spoken examinations, on-demand examinations have been recommended besides formative evaluation strategies like ePortfolio, creative products, classroom or online quizzes."

Must ensure availability of infrastructure: UGC

The panel even suggested that higher institutions must ensure the availability of infrastructure for the implementation of blended learning in universities and colleges. "It must be ensured that required infrastructure for online systems such as accessibility of internet, bandwidth, hardware, space and other related resources be made easily available for the smooth execution of blended teaching-learning process," the draft read.

"The financial aid required to develop the infrastructure and resources must also be taken care of," it added.

UGC on conducting online exams

Along with the online teaching methods, more online exams might also be conducted. The draft note said, "During the COVID time, many exams were forced to be conducted in an online mode. These were supported by variety of tools which came into being in recent times and were based on proctoring through artificial intelligence tools."

"However, AI as technology can be used for many more assessments like, attention levels, speed of learning, level of learning etc. Hence new tools should be experimented with for examinations and assessments," the note further read.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in India Today. The original article can be found at https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/story/ugc-prepares-draft-for-blended-teaching-in-universities-and-colleges-1805627-2021-05-22)