The Time Has Come For More Virtual Learning
Responses from Steven J. Hausman, Ph.D., president, Hausman Technology Presentations.
Your query is very timely and appropriate. I feel that the COVID-19 tragedy will only accelerate what has already become a trend. Let me address your questions individually. Because most schools have moved to virtual learning environments in response to COVID-19, what are the likely long-term outcomes of this?
I believe that the long-term outcome will likely be a move to even more virtual learning than that which currently exists. This is the logical extension of the increased use of artificial intelligence in higher education. Current examples include:
- AI for individualized learning. A professor at Georgia Tech has developed a AI-based teaching assistant to respond to questions from students worldwide. Interestingly enough, the students could not tell the difference between the AI teaching assistant and human teaching assistants. One student even wanted to nominate the AI for the teaching assistant of the year award.
- Temple University has implemented a chatbot to work in the call center and answer questions from students, employees and prospective students.
- Georgia State University has an AI program that is designed to identify at-risk students and intervene to help them succeed in college.
- Southern New Hampshire University is using an AI writing tool that corrects grammar, punctuation and spelling and checks for plagiarism.
Will more schools embrace distance learning once we’re beyond the pandemic? If so, what will that look like? Will some educational entities move beyond physical classrooms altogether?
I think that once the schools have experienced successful distance learning they will see that it has many benefits. For example, schools that have only physical classrooms are generally limited to students from a constrained geographical region. If students from outside that region wish to attend then they must usually physically relocate to the school. With distance learning, however, that relocation will no longer be necessary.
The University of Maryland, has recently rebranded itself from the University of Maryland University College to the University of Maryland Global Campus in recognition of the fact that it now has more than 90,000 students across the world and is one of the longest distance-learning institutions in existence.
In addition, distance learning can increase both the numbers and diversity of students receiving an education. It can also be of great benefit to the educational institution financially since it is conceivable that more individuals of different ages would take advantage of the learning opportunities offered.
Could in-classroom learning go the way of the dinosaur or is that panic-stricken hype?
I feel that classroom education will not go the way of the dinosaur in the near future but that we will attain a new equilibrium with a combination of both classroom education and distance learning depending on the subjects being taught. It would be difficult, for example, for a student to obtain hands-on laboratory experience for science courses with distance learning alone while an English course could more easily be taught that way.
What is the future of classroom-based learning and the technology that plays a role in providing instruction?
The future of classroom-based learning is by no means terminal but it will incorporate many the new technologies that have become available. Some examples include:
- Rensselaer Polytechnic University has a virtual immersion laboratory that replicates things like a Chinese street scene or a restaurant in Beijing in order to teach Mandarin Chinese. So far students using this laboratory have learned Chinese about twice as fast as students in traditional classrooms.
- By using learning analytics, it will be possible to track data on students in ways that were not previously possible. For example, it will be possible to assess a student’s engagement in online discussion groups and determine the amount of time they spend in the library (by analyzing their swipe card entry and exit times). There are obvious ethical issues related to how these data are used and retained and that should be addressed as well.
- Virtual reality is being used by Case Western University to teach medical students about the human body.