This article follows an interview with the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL), Professor Anbahan Ariadurai, which appeared in the Daily News on May 31 on the Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU), open and distance learning (ODL), OUSL and its impact as OUSL hosts AAOU 2021, AAOU’s annual conference and Asia’s largest and most influential ODL forum, from June 1.
Q. Would you say that an online or hybrid event would provide the same experience as an on-site event? And what were the stakes of such an event? How did your staff meet this challenge?
A. When it comes to knowledge dissemination, I think there is no difference between an online conference and an on-site conference. However, when it comes to reach, an online conference is an advantage, as anyone from any part of the world with a device and an internet connection will be able to participate in the conference. Another advantage of online conferencing is that it is economically cheaper for both the host and the participant. But the biggest drawback is the lack of interaction between conference participants. This is a major drawback of an online conference, as many meaningful partnerships and dialogues leading to groundbreaking initiatives are forged on the sidelines of any conference.
I believe I am enjoying the benefits of online and on-site conferencing. The AAOU Executive Committee has decided that starting this year, the AAOU Annual Conference will be held in hybrid mode, with a segment where the biggest challenge of an online conference is technology and connectivity. . We overcame this with an original idea to ask all delegates to send their presentations in recorded form. The conference headquarters will stream presentations from one location, overcoming any connectivity issues or other technology-related issues. Presenters and delegates will be available online during the question and answer period.
We have planned the AAOU online conference as an exact replica of the regular on-site conference. Thus, we have included the inauguration ceremony and the closing ceremonies, including traditional cultural performances, however, all of these will be in online mode. We have taken great care to ensure that delegates have everything they need when it comes to conference presentations. Thus, opening speeches, panel discussions and parallel sessions have all been included. However, of course, we cannot compensate for the personal interaction and of course the various cultural, gastronomic and tourist events that a delegate enjoys at an international conference.
Kudos to my staff for planning every aspect of the conference very meticulously. Over 120 University staff participated in the planning and organization of the conference chaired by Professor JCN Rajendra, conference co-chair. They have worked tirelessly over the past year to make this conference a great success. Our staff also successfully organized the 2020 Annual Open University Research Sessions as a fully online conference and the lessons learned from this experience also played a major role in planning this short-term online conference. .
I have to thank the team of our event manager, Aitken Spence Events and Conference led by Nadeeka Leeniyagoda who have been very accommodating to all of the changing conference scenarios due to the unpredictable pandemic situation.
Q. AAOU 2021 also addresses the concept of holistic and transformational education as defined by UNESCO. Please specify.
A. In any nation, education is a crucial sector that makes a major investment in the development of human capital, thereby contributing to productivity and long-term growth at all levels. UNESCO considers education an absolute priority because it is the foundation on which to build peace and promote sustainable development. UNESCO’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly reflects the importance of an appropriate educational response with education explicitly formulated as a stand-alone goal. Many education-related goals and indicators are also contained in other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to UNESCO, education is both a goal and a means to achieve all the other SDGs. It is not only an integral part of sustainable development, but also a key enabler for it. That is why UNESCO considers education as an essential strategy in the pursuit of the SDGs.
The theme of this year’s AAOU conference includes this aspect of the sustainable future. In addition, the central objective of AAOU is distance education. Distance education pedagogy and learning environments primarily focus on learner-centered teaching, enabling exploratory, action-oriented and transformative learning by empowering learners of all ages, in any educational setting. , to transform themselves and to transform the society in which they live.
Two of the new concepts that are evolving in the context of open and distance learning and beyond are Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open and Massive Online Courses (MOOCs) which are also based on the concept of education. holistic and transformational.
The main point of OER is that knowledge must be made available to facilitate learning and thus transform the teaching and learning landscape, increasing and expanding engagement and participation in learning.
MOOCs are seen by many as an important tool for expanding access to higher education for millions of people, including in developing countries, and as a way to improve their quality of life. MOOCs can be seen as contributing to the democratization of higher education, not only at the local or regional level, but also at the global level. MOOCs can help democratize content and make knowledge accessible to everyone. Students can access full courses offered by universities around the world, which was previously inaccessible. With the availability of affordable technologies, MOOCs increase access to an extraordinary number of courses offered by world-renowned institutions and teachers.
Q. Let’s say there is a student from a rural area who is motivated and motivated to learn. How could the OUSL help him? What would AAOU mean to him?
A. As I said earlier, the OUSL broke down barriers to accessing higher education such as excessive costs, restrictive eligibility criteria, and historic elitism. The University offers largely unlimited access to high quality education for all, through a deliberate shift in focus towards inclusiveness and affordability. We must continue to be very proactive in contributing significantly to economic growth, the reduction of socio-economic imbalances and the production of future business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians and civic champions with a social spirit.
Distance education offers enormous potential for expanding access to higher education and increasing the diversity of the student body, as online technologies provide opportunities to learn from anywhere, anytime, from anyone, at any pace.
The OUSL, through its past achievements, has amply demonstrated that with certain State interventions in terms of upgrading infrastructure and making human resources available, we would be able to respond to a student population of over 100,000, most of them from remote areas of Colombo. Students can take study programs while employed and in locations close to home. This will allow them to contribute to the economy as well as to enjoy family life. The amount of investment required for this expansion would be much less compared to the expansion of the conventional university system.
Modern educational institutions cannot function on their own. Forging partnerships, such as those we have with AAOU and many other international institutes and agencies, is essential to meeting the great challenge of shaking up our educational institutions today and preparing our new generation of students. fierce competition for jobs. Through these mutually beneficial partnerships, we are able to share knowledge, experiences, resources, courses and even entire programs.
As American author, political activist and scholar Helen Adams Keller said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much ”. The benefits we derive from these partnerships will naturally flow through to our main stakeholders, our students.