COVID-19 is making the future happen faster by inducing a fast-paced adoption of digital technology across all sectors. This has resulted in the rise of e-learning, normalizing the phenomenon of remote learning on digital platforms and brought about unprecedented and massive changes in higher education. In India, the government and higher education institutions (HEIs) have responded by transitioning from the face-to-face teaching-learning experience to online by replacing analog tools with digital ones. Under the PM eVIDYA initiative, the top 100 universities were allowed to start online courses without approval. The relaxation was given in the University Grants Commission (UGC) Regulation, 2016, and HEIs were allowed to provide up to 40 percent of the courses in a semester through SWAYAM. Initially, acknowledged as a temporary arrangement, the government and HEIs are already embracing them and developing a new edifice around blended learning. Furthermore, NEP – 2020 proposes to increase India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education from 26.3 percent in 2018–19 to 50 percent by 2035. It is a visionary goal, but can India build enough infrastructure and train sufficient teachers to support a staggering 100 percent (taking round figures) growth in learning opportunities in the next 15 years? It is a difficult goal, but not impossible to achieve. The Union Government seems to realize this. Therefore, it heavily banks on Open and Distance Learning (ODL) and online education.
The UGC Regulations, 2021 gave the framework for aligning online credit courses with the conventional education semester. The UGC, in its draft concept note on guidelines for blended learning, has proposed to allow HEIs to offer up to 40 per cent of the syllabus of every course in the online mode, even after pandemic. These developments are nudging educators, learners and administrators to re-imagine traditional learning and teaching techniques. However, for EdTech to succeed and provide quality education to all, it requires structural changes and policy response for bridging the digital divide. The existing situation has deprived a large number of students from accessing the EdTech learning solutions because of poor connectivity and lack of digital devices in rural and remote areas. Furthermore, HEIs have to move beyond standardized one-size-fits-all approach and rethink curriculum and instructional design to better align with EdTech for ensuring inclusion and equity.
Curriculum Design, Instructional Design, Pedagogy, and Assessment
Inclusion is the fundamental goal that education tends to achieve. Education 4.0, student-centricity, and a learning experience should guide the designing of the curriculum with provisions for equity to facilitate such inclusion at every stage. The curriculum should be prepared by involving all stakeholders and laying clear objectives on the basis of the theory of change, along with the associated indicators to be measured, periodic feedback, revisions, and pilot studies. It should have two components: a broad framework of curriculum and a provision for audit of EdTech preparedness. The curriculum framework can choose from two curriculum models: products or a process, depending on the objectives. The framework should define standards for teacher qualifications, learning resources, content, evaluation, and learning objectives. The curriculum design must include provision for HEIs and educators to experiment and explore within the given framework and shall propose offer diverse programs.
The design of instruction, pedagogy and assessment should follow the approach of backward design, i.e., starting with defining the objective to be achieved by the programme and then employing necessary technologies to accomplish them. The emphasis should be on utilizing the available resources and technologies to achieve the objectives set by the curriculum. Abhinaya Sridharan, a fellow at Bhumi said that it is the combination of asynchronous and synchronous learning that provides better learning outcomes, especially for students belonging to the Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs). Hybrid models that bring together the advantage of face-to-face and online instruction showed better learning outcomes while reducing the cost of education and mitigating the challenges of purely online and in-person education.
Dr Buddha Chandrashekhar, Chief Coordinating Officer, All India Council for Technical Education, described the new pedagogy as ‘touching is believing’ and emphasized the use of 3D, AR and VR for immersive learning and AI-based technologies for personalized learning. It has been suggested that the instructional design should have provision for peer learning and social learning, and it shall describe ‘how supportive technologies, such as discussion forum, Learning Moodle System, MOOCs, etc., are to be used for creating a student’s learning path’. For better inclusion of students belonging to SEDGs, arrangements such as additional time, flexibility to retake the examinations and adaptation to prior learning and skills should be the essential elements of instructional design. The pedagogy should prepare students on how to learn and discover the right material by giving reasons for the inclusion of any topic in the teaching and its connection with broader curriculum and learning objective.
Experts suggest a formative and continuous evaluation for facilitating learning and testing its implementation as a way forward for EdTech. The data analysis shows that assessment for EdTech requires a two-fold strategy: first, defining the competencies for evaluation, and second, designing and conducting an online assessment for measuring the skill sets effectively. Prof. Raghvendra P. Tiwari, a member of the UGC and National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), suggested the inclusion of assessments that are better suited for EdTech, such as project-based reports, open-book examinations, case studies, marked discussion on a forum, etc. It is submitted that these assessments should be included in the instruction and pedagogy to diversify the reach of EdTech platforms.
Teacher Training for EdTech
New technologies have brought significant changes in pedagogy, moving it from teacher-centric model to a student-centric model, with the use of visually enhanced content, flipped classrooms, group work, breakout rooms and virtual labs for an engaging learning experience. Similarly, there is a change in the assessment, forcing HEIs and teachers to adopt new strategies for online and blended modes. Furthermore, there is a gradual change in the traditional role of a teacher; he or she is expected to be more of a facilitator, coach and mentor, than an educator. Training should prepare teachers for learner-centric pedagogy, creating content for EdTech, online assessment and using EdTech platforms, tools and freely available content effectively. It is very difficult communicating with the computer and hence training is required to acclimatize teachers for online teaching. For teachers who have followed a certain routine for a long time, it would be very difficult to adopt new technologies. They require training in new technologies to enable them for delivering teaching-learning experiences by building their confidence. The Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge framework is very crucial for preparing teachers for EdTech and must be included in their professional development programs . HEIs should also facilitate the creation of Professional Learning Networks (PNL) for teachers on social media for easy sharing of knowledge, getting feedback and helping each other in cracking technologies.
Administration, Monitoring, and Management
The government is promoting EdTech in higher education through initiatives such as SWAYAM and mainstreaming blended learning. However, hybrid learning is difficult to practice. Government should lay down frameworks and guidelines for ensuring certain benchmarking and then allow universities to experiment with their learning models. MOOCs are recognized for providing affordable and quality education at a scale with flexibility for learning at one’s own pace. However, for making it open in the true sense, the concerns related to cost, equitable access, language barrier and provision for less experienced learners must be addressed. Mookit platform, an open-source MOOC software provides flexibility to HEIs and educators to create their online classes and comes with an audio-only option for students with poor connectivity. Similar innovations should be supported and promoted so that maximum HEIs can take benefit from them. Every MOOC course should be tested for ease of learning, scalability and ability to provide varied learning paths to students. The concept of local chapters and Coordinator/Mentor in SWAYAM is a promising initiative, but their scope and autonomy must be enhanced.
Ubiquitous internet connectivity, digital learning devices, digital learning content and responsible use policies for facilitating quality digital learning experiences are important and basic components needed for providing quality online learning experiences. Chandrashekhar said that the slow speed of wi-fi both for data transfer within and outside campus is a big constraint for the easy and effective adoption of EdTech. Revamped classrooms with digital devices, cameras, high-speed internet and studio rooms will be the new norms for HEIs. Instructional appropriate hardware and software are a must for digital education. Teachers are at the center of EdTech adoption. Technology must be used to augment teachers in solving the problems for the underperforming students, such as automating assessment for quick identification of learning needs and provide swift pedagogical interventions. Technology can be used to automate administrative jobs performed by the faculty and allow teachers to focus on core offerings. Before scaling any programme or use of any EdTech, its efficacy should be validated. Government should support HEIs and EdTech by creating a pool of shared resources, enhancing virtual labs, developing a system for easy discovery of open educational resources, and creating a platform and toolkit for authoring interesting digital content and supporting various learning environments, such as Kolibri, an open and free technology solution which works without internet access.
The Role of government
UGC Regulation, 2018, lays down eligibility criteria for HEIs and minimum standards of instruction for courses. However, the process of accreditation should be extended to include identification, evaluation of EdTech, and testing of curriculum design and pedagogy. EdTech should demonstrate what it can do. “The parameter of the number of downloads and active users is not an appropriate measurement for the effectiveness of an EdTech”. There should be more concrete indicators in terms of learning outcomes.
Varsha V, a Pedagogy Expert and Senior Curriculum Designer at Mastree said that an EdTech consortium can be created, accredited by the state or national regulatory bodies, and can function as a self-regulating body. This body then develops a well-defined categorization of EdTech. It can be based on different parameters, such as purpose, complementary to course material, co-teacher or replacement teacher, extra-curricular life, entrance or college application, quality of content and pedagogy, etc. Similar to the Singapore education system, there should be a compulsory registration process for teachers to ensure quality assurance for both in-person and online teaching. The concerns of digital divide highlight the importance of mainstreaming the popular do-it-yourself solutions and increasing the utilization of mix-media. To improve the penetration of digital devices, a combination of differential pricing, scholarship, subsidy and shared devices can be used. Government spending on creation of a public EdTech platform and open educational resources will improve the affordability for SEDGs.
Digital Ecosystem and Fair Competition
The emergence of digital technologies has supported the creation of ecosystems for making a market entry, driving value creation and supporting new products and processes. The ecosystem has become a default method of conducting business in the digital economy. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, Apple and Microsoft are very popular examples of ecosystems. In EdTech space, players such as Byju’s and Unacademy, with a slew of acquisitions, are emerging as dominant players. The entry of tech giant such as Amazon and Google will further threaten fair competition affecting the innovation. According to an article published by The Ken, Byju’s and WhiteHat Jr. are exploiting their dominant position by strategically taking down social media posts critical to their business practices—thus threatening the individual’s right to dissent and criticize. The existing competition laws, research on analytical frameworks and competitive dynamics are mainly oriented at the business ecosystems. The role of data complicates the understanding of digital ecosystems. The competition laws are designed to regulate and monitor unlawful business activities and practices which restrict or distort competition. Can we really consider the market size definition of competition for technology companies? Apple would say that they are a very small player. But it controls the Appstore and becomes the one dominant player for Apple customers. Digital products and services require a new definition of market power and monopoly. An ecosystem business model can easily capture the market, restrict competition and innovations. Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act of the European Union provide a balanced legal framework for safe, open and competitive internet space and restrict bigger companies from abusing their market power.
Disruptive Technology and Ethical Concerns
The disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, blockchain and 3D/7D virtual reality, etc., are finding their applications in education and are providing unprecedented advantages. Finding the right mix of automation and human intervention in digital education should be the priority of HEIs. Robotics is for logic, while human decision-making is required for creativity, thinking and emotional support. Furthermore, these technologies are driven by data and produce a large amount of data in the process, throwing up challenges of privacy, data protection and fair use of data in decision making. The NEP, 2020 proposes to make many administrative processes independent of the human interface, and heavily depends on data for decision making and using technology for bringing efficiency and transparency. However, biases can trickle in due to poor data collection or via algorithms designed for processing it. The alternative methods of data verification, such as review meetings, students’ feedbacks, faculty meetings and inputs of different stakeholders should be included in the decision making.
Predictive analytics throws ethical and legal challenges and requires guidelines for responsible use of AI in education. Profiling people is not a good idea. Policymakers must understand and define the usage of such technologies before they are used for consequential decisions. The bigger concern here is that once they are mainstreamed, it will be difficult to stop their usage. The government should follow the European model and regulate powerful technology before it spreads widely and creates unprecedented challenges for the regulatory authorities. To mitigate the concerns related to data privacy and data protection, the student’s academic performance must be deemed to be sensitive data and enforcement of first and second-degree compliance can be helpful. However, data on student’s progress and educational practices is important for innovations and it should be shared with EdTech companies with the safeguards for data rights and privacy. The concept of sandbox is recommended by many experts to provide data for innovation.
The Way Forward
The government must define the intersectional legal positioning of the EdTech companies. HEIs offering online and hybrid education, and a platform such as SWAYAM are regulated by UGC. While private EdTech companies are defined as e-commerce service providers (consumer internet businesses) and come under the purview of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. EdTech is treated like any other technology company and is subject to very little regulation. The courses offered by the foreign educational institutions in India are not covered by the UGC Online Education Regulations. If EdTech follows a marketplace model, then the intermediaries’ guidelines will apply. The education offered by HEIs and EdTech should not be treated differently. It would make sense to create a different body for monitoring EdTech companies under the Higher Education Commission of India akin to RBI which regulates Fintech companies. It would ensure compliance and adherence to the framework and guidelines around curriculum design, instructional and pedagogy strategies, assessment and digital divide required for effective learning with equity and inclusion. Furthermore, challenges related to data privacy, data rights, ethical use of predictive analytics, and fair competition would be handled effectively. Digital technologies, such as EdTech are fast evolving and create unique regulatory challenges. They require a result-oriented and responsive approach to regulation.
*Mr. Dhirendra Singh is a student of the Institute of Public Policy, National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He has 7+ years of experience in project management and research. Before joining the Public Policy Programme at NLSIU, he was working as a Project Editor at Dorling Kindersley India. He did his Bachelors in Communication Design from NIFT, New Delhi. In the sphere of public policy, he worked with several organizations, such as MKSS, Pratham, Accountability Initiative at Centre for Policy Research, and Government of Karnataka. His area of interest includes EdTech, Fintech, HealthTech, data privacy and data rights.
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 Educause, Educause Horizon Report (2021), https://library.educause.edu/-/media/files/library/2021/4/2021.
 The UGC (Credit Framework for Online Learning Courses through SWAYAM) Regulation, 2016, Regulations of University Grant Commission, 2016 (India).
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 Education 4.0 is the personalization of the learning process that provides the learner with flexibility to choose their learning path and achieve personal goals by choice (See; supra, note 6).
 Student-centricity means, who are the students, where do they come from, what is their background, how the programme would impact them, how they pay for the fees and will they get enough earning jobs (See; Pai 2021).
 Learning experience: It is an emerging field of study and draws heavily from other disciplines, such as experiential learning, cognitive psychology, interaction design, user experience design, instructional design and design thinking.
 OCED, Curriculum reform: A literature review to support effective implementation, Working Papers No. 239 OECD Education (2020).
 The product curriculum model is result-oriented which provides specific learning outcomes in the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains. The structure and content of learning are designed to facilitate accurate modes of testing and evaluation.
 Process curriculum model shifts the focus from outcome to the learning process. It supports independent and individualized learning with the active participation of the students. This model helps in developing skills and capacities, such as problem-solving skills, social skills, communication, etc.
 Supra, note 6.
 Young Ju Joo, Sunyoung Park and Eugene Lim, Factors Influencing Preservice Teachers’ Intention to Use Technology: TPACK, Teacher Self-efficacy, and Technology Acceptance Model, J EDUC TECHNOL SOC, 21, 48-59 (2018).
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 Sam Shead, Amazon pushes into education with new academy in India, CNBC, Jan 13, 2021.
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 Supra, note 22.
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 AI systems used are safe, respect existing laws and EU values. The state should provide legal certainty to facilitate investment and innovation in AI.
 Olina Banerji, The Chinese flex in India’s EdTech muscle, The Ken, Jul. 27, 2020.
 Report, EdTech: From IT to AI: A legal perspective, Nishith Desai Associates (2019).
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