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“Classroom teaching can only be replicated using technology”
Ramesh Bhat, Officiating Vice-Chancellor, Provost and Dean, School of Business Management at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), in an interaction with BW Businessworld shares how the institution showed incredible resilience in dealing with the sudden disruption caused by the pandemic, and resorted to prompt and innovative approaches to deal with the problems that cropped up. Excerpts:
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How has the business environment changed in the last few months? What parts have permanently changed and warrant new orientation?
The Covid-19 crisis has led to drastic changes in the business environment. The global lockdown forced industries to innovate and adapt to an unprecedented reality. Some of the changes which we are seeing across businesses are e-commerce, digital transactions, remote working, online training, and digital learning. Some of these changes will stay for the long-term while some may lessen with time. The changes which are most likely to be permanent are e-commerce, digital transactions, online solutions to client needs.
What are the strategic drivers for business now?
Our first priority should be to boost demand across all sectors. We have seen a drastic collapse in demand across industries. This echoes the trends we are seeing in the global economy. The World Bank predicted that the global economy will shrink by 5 per cent this year, the biggest fall since World War II. For India, the IMF has predicted a steeper contraction of 10.3 per cent for the current financial year. The pandemic caused disruptions of demand across almost all sectors, barring essential industries and the healthcare sector. As of now, the chances of demand returning to the pre-Covid-19 levels for many sectors like entertainment seems to depend on the availability of a vaccine. In such a situation, some of the strategic drivers for businesses could be online transactions, usage of technologies to reach out to customers in their homes, staying price competitive, looking at product/ service innovation, and production to suit requirements.
How is your business school rising to this challenge? How is your school poised to thrive in this new abnormal which may actually become the new normal?
The unexpected challenges brought about by the global pandemic forced academic institutions to move to a virtual mode of teaching and learning. NMIMS showed incredible resilience in dealing with this sudden disruption. The institute resorted to prompt and innovative approaches to deal with the problems and issues that cropped up. Some of the quick and immediate responses that were undertaken to avoid major disruptions are:
• Development and arrangement of technical infrastructure by getting licenses for online teaching platforms like CISCO WebEx and Microsoft Teams
• Extensive training of faculty and staff for delivering through these online platforms • Extensive use of our in-house student portal for conducting examinations
• Online corrections and declaration of results
• Conducting online admission tests, interviews, and counselling sessions.
With regular training and practice, the faculty and staff have mastered the art of delivering with equal ease and effectiveness on the virtual model. To ensure that our virtual classrooms can replicate the physical classrooms, the university has been investing heavily in digital learning tools such as computers with highspeed Internet connectivity, hand-held devices like graphic pen tablets, digital teaching platforms with tools for polling, breakout rooms, and learning materials like e-books, MyLab resources (as offered by certain publishers). At NMIMS we recognise that such infrastructure investments are critical for seamless delivery of online teaching and boosting student engagement and motivation.
To make our teaching and learning experiences more effective, we have also made a move towards blended learning — coordinating otherwise asynchronous components and establishing a strong student feedback system. We look to thrive in this new normal with collaborative efforts from all departments of the university.
What is your view on changed expectations of CEOs who recruit from Bschools?
As businesses return to normalcy, the expectations are also likely to return to the pre-Covid-19 levels. However, certain basic realities have changed irrevocably. To stay relevant and competitive in this changed environment, CEOs and their teams must rethink key strategies, such as business models and missions. This new landscape will also see a higher prominence of certain areas of expertise like digital marketing and cyber security.
What are you doing to stay ahead and re-visualise your institutions?
Our efforts, as mentioned in response to an earlier question, are a continuous exercise. We are constantly working towards the improvement of our virtual teaching and learning experiences. Simultaneously, we are also working closely with our industry partners for needs analysis to come up with a curriculum that will address business requirements in the post-Covid-19 world.
In your opinion will there be an impact on on-campus education from the changed scenario?
Some changes like research webinars with global speakers or virtual talks by guest speakers are likely to continue in the post-Covid-19 world. However, virtual learning experience cannot really replace the experience of physical learning on a campus. I think that a full-fledged return to the campus is just a matter of time, depending on the availability of a successful medical solution to the current crisis.
How do educators need to prepare, reorient themselves for this change?
As far as virtual teaching and learning is concerned, I think educators have done a good job of orienting themselves to the new reality. What we need to do further is a thorough review of the curriculum to focus on emerging needs across industries and the new areas of recruitment. We have to come up with new modes of evaluation in a virtual world where most of the examinations are likely to be of open-book format.