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Pros and cons of digital discussions: Nepal’s context

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A digital discussion also called a virtual discussion, is an alternative to the discussion with a physical presence, wherein people interact with each other by the means of the digital platform using text, image, audio and video. It can be accomplished online as well as offline. A digital device, access to networks and interacting users are the pre-requisite of digital discussions. It can be used as anytime-anywhere means of discussion. It allows both private and public conversations. The communication can be simplex or duplex.

In recent days, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people are largely shifted towards digital discussions thus leaving the traditional (physical) ways of discussion. Various digital platforms are being used for digital discussions. Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet, Clubhouse etc are introducing themselves with their own features for digital discussions. Apart from the above, social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are also facilitating the services that aid in digital discussions.

Nepal had been slowly but gradually promoting digital discussions before the pandemic also, but the pandemic accelerated the pace in an unprecedented way. Therefore, it is now time to discuss the pros and cons of it in the country of the country.

Applications and advantages

The digital discussions have been taking place in manifold sectors of applications. It is covering most types of formal and informal discussions. Discussions can be made with family members, relatives, friends, colleagues, business partners, customers and eventually with unknown persons too. It is used for classroom discussions, organisational meetings, training, webinars, conferences etc. People are putting their views without any hesitation and are fully utilising their right to freedom of expression. They are sharing their knowledge, skills and experiences. They are extending their intellectual horizon.

In the digital platform, people can join and leave the discussion instantly, so it becomes easier for them to manage their personal schedules. They can set their priorities and plans accordingly.

Digital discussions seem to be a boon in the teaching and learning sector. It acts as a catalyst to increase engagement by getting more learners actively involved during sessions. New levels of interactivity and expression can be observed throughout the discussion. The discussion can be made result-oriented using the available tools in the digital platform.

Digital discussions allow creativity in the responses of the participants. They can use presentations with images, videos and other relevant resources including online research citations. An avenue for open reflection is provided in the discussion along with the opportunity to answer and ask questions for more learners.

As people feel free to share their opinions, digital discussions better meet the needs of shy and introverted learners. Also, the conversations and learning can be extended beyond the traditional classroom or office hours.

Nowadays, school and university level formal education is not limited to four-walled brick and mortar classrooms. Along with students, their guardians and other stakeholders are involved in the learning process. A culture grounded in trust and responsibility is being created due to the ongoing digital discussion practice.

Apart from the educational sector, the digital discussion is transforming the business and service sector. The government and non-government organisations are able to reduce their operation cost. They should not have to spend on tea, snacks, lunches, transport fare etc while organising meetings, training, conferences, seminars etc.

Now, people can raise their voices from the digital media. They can evaluate the government activities and express their attitudes through social media. The government agencies can also be involved in virtual public hearings and the issues can be clarified.

The adverse side

digital discussions
Photo: Andreas Nadler/Flickr

Looking towards the adverse side of the digital discussion, due to the pre-requisite of device and network, the participants may not be as expected. It is expensive to manage all this stuff for rural inhabitants. The intended participants may not have adequate knowledge and skills to use the digital platform and have to rely more on others. This might sometimes lead to a threat to data privacy.

While we are going through virtual discussions, we may lose our social and emotional skills. We have to compromise our physical activities and lessen our body movements. We may have adverse health effects while hovering around the device for a long time.

Sometimes, in an open discussion, it would be hard for us to control the undesired activities as we could not identify who is who. Likewise, we could not restrict the children from pornographic content or discussion shared over the applications.

Talking in context to Nepal, we have poor infrastructures for effective digital discussions. Poor network and untimely cut-off of electricity are the main hurdles. Also, people are not that much aware of data privacy, secured communication and possible threats. We lack specific policies, rules and laws regarding digital discussions. Even the validity of virtual meetings is not clarified in the prevailing laws. People are posting, commenting and sharing content haphazardly on social sites without having adequate knowledge of prevailing cyber laws.

Amplifying advantages

Digital discussions can be made more effective using the available tools in the platform. Managing time cards for speakers, detaching noise and disturbance, setting queues and allowing the audience to involve in the discussion without any discrimination can make the discussion more fruitful.

Though it is not relevant to set rules in informal discussion, it is better to do so while organising formal discussion programmes. It will clarify the role of the organiser or moderator, speakers and the audience. Next, if the number and type of the participants were known earlier and the preparation was done accordingly, unexpected situations would not come throughout the programme.

To prevent the discussion from going out of a specified topic, the host or the moderator should stay alert and should take control of the situation in need. Only running a one-way lecture is boredom, so to keep the audience interested and engaged, hand-raising tools, polls, chat and questions throughout the session should be allowed. Sometimes, playing games and cracking comedies also assist in participants’ refreshment.

Conclusion

The digital discussion is the need of the hour. It is like a “boon” in the pandemic situation and a cost-cutting medium in the non-pandemic situation. Its effectiveness can be gained along with the felicitous management of the IT infrastructures, specific policies, rules and laws from the government side and acquiring adequate knowledge, skills and ideas from the public side.

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Adhikari is an IT professional in a reputed bank and a regular opinion writer.

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