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To be perfect is to change often: The story of NSHM in pursuit of excellence

07 April, 2021

About NSHM Knowledge Campus, Kolkata & Durgapur: Come December 2021, NSHM shall be completing its 25th year in higher education. Talking about the NSHM Knowledge Campus, it presently has a combined enrolment of over 6000 students spread across its twin state-of-the-art campuses. NSHM offers University degree programs in professional domains such as Media & Communication, Design, Health Sciences, Engineering & Technology, Tourism & Hotel Management, Business & Management, and Computing & Analytics. The Institution’s higher education attributes are influenced by Notabilis, Sociatrix, Humanus, and Maxime (NSHM), where graduates are prepared to be part of a noteworthy collaboration for the best development of humankind.

The COVID Challenge

Not to mention, like any other institution, the year 2020 posed a huge challenge for the institution to overcome the initial adversities of the pandemic that too in a just-in-time model. The compulsion was transitioning wholly to digital spaces from physical spaces of teaching and learning.

“Before that, we had an underutilized Learning Management System (LMS), which to many at NSHM was a sleeping elephant and they were not mindful about its presence. Given that sudden COVID lockdown compulsion, the big challenge was to not only awaken the ‘elephant’ but also to teach her to dance. Anyways, we somehow managed within a day to migrate our teaching, learning, and assessment online. Initially, it was meant to be an ad-hoc alternative but later we realized for good that digital (and physical) will make the better normal, where learners shall eventually get to pivot the ecosystem of education as per their choice. Will this be the futureproofing of higher education? We believed it might be prudent to adhere to an affirmative ‘yes’ line.”

Leading the E-LEAD - QS I-GAUGE inspiration

E-Learning Excellence for Academic Digitization (E-LEAD) was commissioned less than a year before COVID by the globally revered QS’s Indian joint-venture QS I-GAUGE. It elucidated a verification and validation of quality processes in higher education on the digital preparedness of institutions to conduct online teaching and learning. E-LEAD had a very well-laid-out rubric for education audit and assessment. The institution was inspired to get diagnosed by E-LEAD’s quality benchmarking on Student-Faculty Engagement, LMS, IT Support, and Best Practices in IT. In that process, the institution was able to measure and manage – digital literacy, online tutorials, live streaming, pre-recorded lectures, virtual one-to-one sessions, students’ feedback, LMS enabled creation, delivery, assessment, grading, availability of IT helpdesk, disaster-recovery, IT accessories, immediate replacements, non-usage of pirated software, Service Level Agreements, effective backups, etc. to enable the institution to learn, leverage, and to lead in the coming days with blended excellence of offline, online, and on-demand education.

Overcoming the initial mindset 

“We decided to go for E-LEAD as the brand QS was coveted to us. But in our minds, we were skeptical about that for not having any prior experience with QS kind of quality audits. Furthermore, COVID lockdown was a serious deterrent to collating, processing, and validating the data and information from our campuses. However, we stood confident as our LMS and other online means and methods were very active by then.”

Besides, the feedback of learners was positive, which helped the Institution in overcoming the initial inhibitions.

“Moreover, the QS I-GAUGE team was very helpful and sorted out all our queries. Finally, in the zest for E-Lead, we were able to support our submissions with more than adequate documents and demonstrations. The main takeaway was that we could identify the gaps in our online education and were readily able to address all those.

Challenging part of the journey

E-LEAD badges were part of the institution’s journey but were not the end of it. It was after the E-LEAD certification that the institution’s most challenging mission took wings, which was about sustaining the desired change for quality education involving the hybrid physical-digital learning spaces. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic continued longer than expected leaving the Institution little room to reclaim wholly the joy of learning in physical spaces. Yet, the Institution continuously took measures to train its teachers, experimented with new teaching and learning formats, gave MOOC licenses to all the learners, thereby, introduced choices on learning, online platforms/ sites/ and other asynchronous resources, encouraged self-paced learning along with experimental gamified assessment tasks, etc.

“However, we are still on the journey seeking for better meaning and purpose, wholly with digital education? Or should we say that we are missing that elusive something to actuate truly the democratization of higher education?” a common thought across the staff of NSHM Knowledge Campus.

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs): Imperatives 2021-30

One thing for sure as far as HEIs are concerned. Their decade of 2021-30 will stand out because of reasons more than one. Foremost their traditional patterns, like – attendance, curriculum, degree education, regulatory compliances, quality criteria, rankings and accreditation, and many other accepted norms unchallenged since ages will all be challenged to change to keep pace with the innovation-led economy. Already, micro-credentials and evidence on continuous learning are being preferred over one-time degree credentials of yesteryear. Furthermore, this decade will demand multi-taskers, continuous learners, and multi-faceted resources adept in multi-disciplinary, cross-cultural, and diverse settings. In that context, NEP 2020 mandates must be taken into consideration for learner-centric design and delivery. The recipe for success is best left undefined. HEIs must instrument their means and methods to excel differently and resting upon past laurels will just not be enough. Some of the key imperatives for the decade 2021-30, which we must consider are as below.

  • Continuously operate, upgrade, and calibrate the LMS.
  • Invest in the authoring of content and count even the wastage as a return.
  • Experiment with new blending models to implement learner-centric education.
  • Embrace the National Education Policy 2020 in letter and spirit.
  • Create possibilities for students’ engagement and transnational solidarity.
  • Collaborate, co-create, and communicate on innovative outcomes.
  • Periodic quality audits and accreditations.

Creating success stories

Higher education leadership should focus on understanding the user stories and thereafter design value propositions to enhance user experiences in a continuum. In agile terms, learner-centric experience design can be the motivation and recipe for new success stories. Without that, it will not be prudent to prescribe any remedial directives. Else, the behaviours and experiences of beneficiaries comprising learners, teachers, and other stakeholders shall suffer.

“How to create success stories? One proven preparatory path in this regard will be with higher attainment on quality audits and/or accreditations of national and international agencies like QS.”

Yet, wearing the quality badge just will not suffice. HEIs have to curate context-specific designs for mission-guided outcome-based education and evidence in the form of measurable indicators apart from placements. For example, the two most used words in HEIs today are entrepreneurship and innovation, which also happens to be the most burdensome in terms of matching those with concrete evidence? Because, unlike grade cards at the end of every semester or year, intellectual property development and/or start-ups do not show as per a planned routine. It is here that HEIs have an opportunity, especially with the COVID learning, to invest on time, more important than anything else, in inquiry-based learning.

Inquiry-Based Model approach

To begin with, inquiry-based learning projects can be outlined and slotted at the end of a teaching semester where participants can be grouped as intra-semester cohorts. Subsequently, those cohorts can gradually become intra-program and later, inter-disciplinary in composition. NSHM has designed a model for that. To briefly explain, all our programs got mapped as a 3-column teaching-learning framework under the program’s education objective, comprising its core areas (themes), sub-areas under each theme (categories), and key descriptors against each category (codes). Besides, baskets of minors got curated for choice-based extended learning. For every semester starting 2021-22 session end-semester learning projects (inquiry outlines) got outlined, through a participatory process, to assess the applicability of taught codes and induction of new codes (untaught) in respective inquiries of the programs.

We would expect stories around each inquiry. Carrying out the inquiries over some time, we are looking forward to some success stories worth sharing. And such stories shall also pave the way for higher QS quality attainments for us in the days ahead.

Authors:

Cecil Antony - Former engineer, SAIL who made his foray into skills and education entrepreneurship in the year 1991 and established NSHM in the year 1996 as Trustee and Chief Mentor and is involved in furthering the cause of social, green entrepreneurship, and human development. He can be reached at, cecil@nshm.com

Krishnendu Sarkar - former scientist, CSIR, engineer in Industry, and social worker who made his foray into higher education from the year 2002 as Head of Academics of NSHM and is involved in furthering the cause of higher education for the best development of humankind. He can be reached at, krishnendu.sarkar@nshm.com

References

Title - Quote by Winston Churchill.

Disclaimer

The views & opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent those of QS-ERA India Private Limited and/or its employees, partners, shareholders, or other stakeholders.

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