Being literate in the traditional sense is no longer sufficient for success in the 21st century workplace, believes Sunaina Singh, Vice Chancellor, English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU). In an interaction with ENN, she says that apart from students benefitting from the use of technology, there is a perceivable change in teachers’ attitudes towards teaching, knowledge and learning
As an institute involved in teaching and training of languages, how relevant is the use of technological tools and ICT in the field of education for you?
As a teacher, I am aware of the constantly shifting paradigms in education – many of us are caught in a situation where digital immigrants teach digital natives. It would not be wrong to say that many of our students are more tech-savvy than the teachers, and comfortable with their own set of digital practices. To reach out to a group like that, we need our teachers to engage with ICT and new tools. But more importantly, as academicians we need to be aware that technology is no longer a ‘nice-to-know skill’, it is an ‘essential- to-know skill’. Being literate in the traditional sense is no longer sufficient for success in the 21st century workplace. Newer definitions of literacies are being explored and hailed globally as essential workplace skills. Digital literacy that goes beyond basic skills to include information, technological, and visual know- how, is one such core essential skill.
There has been a concerted push from the HRD ministry towards technology enabled learning. What is the progress at your university?
Following directives from the MHRD, and based on the observations made by the Honorable President and recom- mendations made during the Vice Chancellor’s Conference 2013, our University has consolidated and strengthened its initiatives in the use of technology in education to assist both students and teachers. There is more e-content being generated both in our distance mode programmes and also as support to face- to-face classrooms. Conscious adoption of web 2.0 tools by many of our teach- ers has made the teaching-learning process more seamless. EFLU has always laid emphasis on providing access to learning opportunities for all students. An area emphasised by my administration was enabling our differently-abled students to move forward with ease in e-learning.
Are there any other initiatives that you have streamlined with regard to tech-enabled learning?
Apart from providing empowering technology tools to our Disabled Cell, we have made significant efforts in restructuring courses in terms of content and delivery, to make them simpler, yet more efficient. The EMMRC, School of Distance Education and several programmes in foreign languages are using technology both as an agent for content presentation as well as a medium of delivery. Our teachers welcome opportunities for content updation of face-to-face courses to ensure their currency – some of our courses deliver the latest in the field of ICT in language sciences like Use of web 2.0 tools, Game theory, Digital literacies, Digital artefacts etc.
What in your view is the impact of the use of ICT on the quality and accessibility of education? How has it helped the students and faculty at your institute?
Technology makes possible concepts that we have always upheld as educators, like learner autonomy and lifelong learning. It facilitates a move away from a perception of education as something that happens within classroom walls at specific times and allows individualised learning in the truest sense. Many of our course instructors use social networking sites and 2.0 tools like wikis, penzus, blogs, voicethreads, etc. The af- fordances offered by such digital learning environments include multiple entry levels and individualised learning paths. Additionally, they also allow multimodal assessment patterns, promote higher or- der thinking skills, encourage creativity and facilitate collaborative and interactive learning paradigms. And it isn’t just our students who have benefitted, there is a perceivable change in teachers’ at- titudes towards teaching, knowledge and learning; our teachers have started thinking of newer pedagogies, reinter- preting research methodologies, and designing new modes of assessment.
Any plans to collaborate with private players?
Several linkages to establish collabora- tive programmes with industry in the field of language research and pedagogi- cal innovations are already in place and more are being planned. The intention is to introduce multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity to our programmes so that our students gain opportunities to ideate and innovate. A second area where we would benefit interfacing with industry is in developing translit- eracy skills in our students. The ability to acquire and present information in multiple forms, I feel is best achieved in authentic contexts. We are seeking industry partnerships for such digital- ly-situated student development pro- grammes.
What are your priority areas in the near future?
Scoping future trends and opportunities, I think as educators and administrators we need to think of ways to promote and support digital learning in continuous and sustainable ways. My goal is to think of embedding digital literacy as an edu- cational approach and a norm rather than an exception restricted to a work- shop or a few courses. I read a survey report somewhere that an average per- son now changes at least 10 professions in his/her lifetime. In such a scenario, what is it that we can teach to enable our students to be future-ready? There is the danger of dwelling too closely on the use of technology and tools. As the head of a language university I find this unrewarding. Instead, what is more es- sential is a change in our attitudes to use of technology in the classroom, a com- mitment to think of education in a new perspective – one that is no longer hand- ed down by the teacher, but one that is more collaborative and interactive in na- ture; one that is not compartmentalised, but aimed at developing transferable skills. Now, all these mean incorporat- ing newer elements into teacher train- ing programmes – we need to encourage the teacher to come out of his/her com- fort zone and address teacher anxiety. We plan to design confidence-building sessions to demonstrate that technol- ogy can never replace teachers, that technology is empowered by the teacher who uses it. Which is why I feel blended classrooms should be given priority. Secondly, I am also interested in providing authentic contexts for practice of digital literacy skills so that our students are in- dustry-ready by the time they complete their education. And finally, we would also like to build on our online courses and encourage wider dissemination of courses and lectures to make them ac- cessible to the general public.