Desperate times call for desperate measures! Indeed, this expression is believed to be coined by an ancient Greek physician where he mentioned that a suitable cure for extreme diseases can be ‘restriction’ (the irony). Global circumstances have restricted us from public experience, compelled us to immerse ourselves with various activities in our confined four walled space. But are we really restricted? As a postgraduate student of Surrey, I believe not. That is when the university announced that to overcome restriction and continue quality learning, all kinds of study will be conducted online, allowing us to have all the face-to-face experience and interactions online. Before that I was thinking life won’t be that bad in quarantine had it been just Netflix or online chats with friends and family. But it is what it is. We must catch up on coursework and continue to learn effectively, so let’s talk about that experience.
Studying in quarantine is like two different sides of a coin. For some, it is an opportunity where they believe that more time captured can be optimized to learn as much as we can. The other side however lacks the motivation as the mind is distracted and study time is not utilized efficiently. To be honest, I was briefly part of the latter side, but I immediately overcame that lifestyle because I understand that no matter the crises, we must proceed with our studies as this is what we signed up for. I opened my first online lecture and yes it was boring at first (because it wasn’t Money Heist), but believe me, once you get in the flow, its actually great. The best thing about online classes is that it gives us extra time on a day where our commute and ‘getting ready’ for university time is saved. Further, another great thing is that we can pause as much as we can to understand a concept or revise what the instructor communicated previously. This privilege of breaks also ensures that we study at our own convenience and take as much intervals as we can.
To adapt to this learning method, you must however make schedules. Online teaching experience can be enhanced if we combine the benefits of online teaching with the shortcomings of face-to-face learning. Let me explain, this experience can be augmented if we sit online exactly at our class timings and focus on that lecture at that time (no distractions!) and benefit from that experience because of the extra time in a day we got by not commuting, and also understanding the lecture fully by pausing and writing notes to make sure to catch up with what the instructor is saying. Naturally, we are sometimes unable to focus fully in a class room so surprisingly, online experience proved to be a great learning tool.
However, this teaching method can be improved if there is a standard software/platform (and it must be one of the best) where all the teachers, make presentations, record lectures or present classes. For instance, some teacher uses their own cams and audio to record while others use the university’s services to record lectures and so on. This makes the experience varied as some instructors deliver well while others either have sound or video problems. Generic platforms like Zoom, Cisco or University’s own system, etc. are examples. Second, the instructors must also ensure that they don’t conduct class on slide material only but also engage students’ attention by providing examples on e-pads (where applicable), just like they do in class on boards. Lastly, online teaching can also be improved if we have live classes rather than just recorded lectures. I have attended live classes before and I believe that it is easier to ask questions and clear concepts with the instructor rather than emailing later. Also, it keeps the focus of the class. I understand that there are different time zones across the globe and deciding one time which is suitable for students from all time zones can be difficult but is still an option worth exploring.
However, it is worth highlighting that the University of Surrey is regardless doing the best it can, and improving and evolving with situations overtime. On last notes, if asked about how I would feel in the long term about online teaching, I don’t know that for sure right now since I believe face-to-face teaching has its own benefits, but online learning is an option worth exploring. Ideally, a mix of both can assist in ensuring quality and excellent education.