By Mareen Breslin
By now, everyone is well-acquainted with the notion of working remotely and learning remotely. Since March 2020, third level–education has primarily been taught in online form. This has led to mixed responses from students, educators, and policymakers alike. Many students and teachers have complained of a dampened quality of education, and certainly that of the traditional university experience on campus, calling into question if a discount is in order for students on their fees and housing.
Universities have been working hard in the past few months to deal with these unprecedented circumstances due to the pandemic, as well as to ensure the quality of education and standards of learning are upheld, despite Covid-19 limitations.
Something that has been suggested to potentially enhance the quality of online learning is a digital literacy test for lecturers and professors. This test could guarantee that lecturers have the aptitude to function digital learning tools, such as Blackboard or Zoom, in order to more effectively present course materials and online lectures to their classes. Many proponents of a designated digital test argue that if students are paying the same rate of fees, tests are a fair way to evaluate and certify that their teachers are proficient enough to sufficiently educate them through the web to the best degree possible.
If students are expected to make sacrifices and learn how to navigate online learning, on top of continuing to pay the rate of standard fees, it does not seem like much to suggest that teachers be held to an online performance standard. Digital tools and being savvy with technology have become essential to the very function of education amidst the pandemic. To ask a student to use this digital technology, requires the educator to as well. If an educator is to use it, he or she should be held to at least a minimum standard of performance and understanding of video presentation, posting course materials, email correspondence, and assortments of digital file distribution as needed by the class and module.
Those against any sort of digital literacy test have made claims that it is unfair to older lecturers, who may not be digital denizens. People have stated that it is disadvantageous to ask an older professor to take a test in order to prove a level of adeptness in online teaching, when this has never been an aspect of their lecturing life before, and could discriminate against them for something out of their control. This is in contrast to many students, who tend to be in a younger demographic at large.
However, everyone, regardless of their age, has been forced to take on new skills which are out of their control in recent times. It is paramount to delivering high quality online learning that the person in charge of teaching understands how to use the tools at their disposal. The test could also be seen as an opportunity for learning. Universities and institutions could provide lessons for teachers who might not know the ins and outs of digital education to get them up to speed. After undergoing these lessons, it could then be required for them to take the base line digital literacy test to move forward to online learning.
These are challenging times for everyone, particularly students and educators. A digital literacy test could bring about reassurance to students that their education is being held to the highest standards. It could also ensure that professors are knowledgeable in how they are using the online tools in order to best teach students. This would also be beneficial to teachers because it could open a window for them to better understand digital education and broaden their own skillsets. It would be a positive thing for all parties, especially within the growing concern that the entire academic year is likely to be, at the very least, a hybrid experience.