A reflection on the online semester: The new normal for education

“Am I audible?” became the new “Good morning children!” for every student last semester. All owing to the fact that a health crisis was looming large over our heads with no certainty of the future. However, educational institutes managed to continue imparting education even in these tough times. The new makeshift arrangement to deal with the pandemic was E-learning/online learning through platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The “new normal” replaced our classrooms with our comfy bedrooms. Instead of actually seeing the professors, we saw them virtually on our laptop/phone screens. Likewise, the professors instead of interacting with us in person had to settle with talking to our display pictures which were usually just our initials. The initial experience of the online classes was nothing short of a rumpus. A lot of professors faced difficulties in getting used to the online platforms as not all of them were technology savvy. Whereas the students, being themselves, took immense pleasure in disturbing the class through their…mischiefs.

Removing certain students from the class, muting the professor while they were speaking or playing some loud music by turning on their microphones were just a few of the many pranks that the students resorted to. Everyone was of the impression that things would get normal soon and that the online classes were only a temporary measure. This was perhaps the reason which prompted the students to have their fair share of fun. With no prior experience of online learning and the added ruckus created by many students, our university was forced to cancel the online classes with the hope of resuming physical classes on campus in a month or so. However, with the pandemic only getting worse and an unforeseeable future, the university administration decided to resume with the online mode of learning. This time students were more cooperative as they were aware that the new mode of learning was their only option and no more just a temporary measure. And resorting to such unruly behaviour would only jeopardise their future. Professors too were better equipped with technology as they had learnt from their initial classes’ experience and had greater control over student activities. Adapting to the online mode learning was still no cakewalk. Whenever a new strategy or method is adopted for anything, it is bound to have shortcomings and it was no different with online classes.

The downside of online learning  

One of the strongest pillars for effective and efficient learning is communication and the practicality of e-learning seems to fall short of it. For students to raise their queries, the medium of communication was either by switching on their microphones or commenting on the chat box provided. At times, they refrained from using the microphone due to disturbances at home, or technical problems like voice echo or microphone malfunction. Ultimately, students were only left with the medium of chatbox to communicate their concerns or comments. However, this made it difficult for the professors to manage doubts/comments from the chatbox while simultaneously teaching from their presentations because the software wouldn’t allow them to do so.  This subsequently resulted in a few of the doubts going unaddressed. Other troubles which accompanied online learning were lag in the professor’s voice or breaking of voice due to which they had to end the call and re-join, resulting in a waste of time and disturbance in their flow.

A lot of universities had to trim down their coursework due to the sudden shift to online classes. Since the current batches were not introduced to a few modules that were part of their original curriculum, it puts us at a disadvantage in the competitive world. One of the biggest drawbacks of online classes is the lack of a competitive environment that exists in a regular classroom. As a student, when one is physically present, there is an urge to learn and insecurity of being left behind which oftentimes acts as motivation for a lot of people. This urge is almost impossible to recreate in an online class where one is sitting in the comfort of their own home. Personality development is one of the most important things that students go through during their school and college life. This happens over time, through interactions with different kinds of people on a daily basis. Activities like mooting, debates or sports fests are paramount in teaching students how to develop these skills. With online classes, it is indeed challenging to focus on the holistic development of the students due to lack of any in-person interaction and extracurricular activities. Another major concern for parents and students is that attending lectures by staring at the screen for long hours causes a lot of strain in the eyes resulting in a lack of concentration.

Sitting and attending classes in comfort at home led to a furthermore loss in focus and attentiveness. Self – discipline was the key to staying afloat this semester because it is way easier to find a mechanism to escape classes and assessments when they are not happening the traditional way. Due to a lenient attendance policy, half of the students didn’t show up for the lectures. Few that did, did so for the sake of showing a decent number of attendees. They would log in, put the lecture on mute and continue doing their own work in the meantime. Teaching is a two-way street. Core law subjects like Constitutional law or Family law are discussion-based and require participation. Yet these were taught without much debate and deliberations due to constraints of video conferencing which limit engagement between the students and professors. Online learning was infeasible for students staying in rural areas, as they did not have access to a good internet facility and missed out on a lot of classes.  For many, the concern was not just internet connectivity but not having the means to afford a reliable internet connection. It is important to understand that before the COVID-19 pandemic,  it wasn’t mandatory to have a laptop or an internet connection for many university students. Suddenly expecting people to equip themselves with these facilities, with an ongoing pandemic when resources are already stretched out, seemed unreasonable.

Just like two sides of the same coin, this semester had its own merits too 

It might sound like the new learning medium was no good, but that would be a misinformed conclusion. Virtual learning certainly had its own pros too, perhaps less in number than the cons outlined. Online classes have made students more self – reliant and responsible. This can be affirmed by the fact that the ones who attended classes did so from a genuine desire to learn, considering there was no mandatory attendance this time. One of the greatest benefits of online classes is its accessibility for those who possess the means. All that is required is a decent internet connection, unlike physical classes where one needs to commute to reach their college or school. Attending classes online is as simple as switching on the laptop and watching the classes in the comfort of one’s own home.

The best part about online lectures was that they were mandatorily recorded so that any student who missed them could watch them at his/her own accord or could even go over the lectures for revising certain concepts without burdening the professor. Students who had a keen interest in a specific subject or were fond of a particular professor’s method of teaching could attend that lecture irrespective of their batch or section. The flexibility that comes with E-learning is yet another merit. The professors and students could negotiate and agree for keeping the lecture at a time which would suit both their needs. Few professors even managed to make learning more interesting by changing their background screens and make it appear as if they were still teaching from campus or sometimes some fancy mountainous region. Students’ “outside classroom” interaction with professors was comparatively more as they could set up personal meetings with them on MS Teams and deliberate on issues that were part of their course or otherwise. Some creative professors even shared GIFs and students would share memes of their learning experience with that professor or the subject in general which was very well received.

illu
Illustration of a concept from a lecture on the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. © Smera Nathani

Suggestions for the way ahead

Now that we have almost one semester under our belt, we have a few suggestions that could make online learning more effective and fruitful. There needs to be some minimum attendance requirement so students wouldn’t bunk classes unnecessarily. To make sure that the ones that have joined the call and are actually listening to the lecture, students should be required to turn their video cameras on. Considering the connectivity issues of the past semester, the coming semester could be improved by ensuring more bandwidth so as to allow students to share their screens. Class participation was abrogated as a component from internal assessments this semester which led to classes being dull on certain occasions. The professors could encourage participation by introducing some fun quizzes to keep the students engaged.

From a broader perspective, there needs to be a technological change. Online solutions like Microsoft Teams and Zoom are good for the corporate world but when it comes to conducting school and college-level classes, they don’t seem to be that effective. We need a dedicated software solution, developed for the special purpose of conducting online classes which can provide more control to the teachers and professors with respect to attendance and maintaining decorum in the class. If technology allows, class participation should be restored as a component of the internal assessment as it ensures that students regularly attend lectures and have an incentive to participate in class. With no end in sight to the current pandemic, it is important that schools, in particular, bring out innovative ways to make learning over a group video call more engaging, considering that it is specifically a difficult task to keep young minds engaged over a call. A helping hand from the parents in the form of providing their children with a more study friendly environment and ensuring that they are actually attending classes could go a long way in providing a wholesome learning environment even amidst the new normal.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Kartik Arya

kartik arya

Kartik Arya is a third-year law student, pursuing BA LLB ( Hons.) From OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat. His interests lie in the field of criminal litigation, Alternative Dispute Resolution and Banking & Finance.

Smera Nathani

smera- headshot

Smera is a third-year undergraduate student of B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) at Jindal Global Law School. Her hobbies include dancing and playing badminton along with a knack for writing sometimes. Pertaining to the legal field, she is inclined towards criminal law and constitutional law. She can be reached at 18jgls-smera.n@jgu.edu.in.

One thought on “A reflection on the online semester: The new normal for education

  1. Hiii, it is a really nice platform to share your thoughts and views related to law .
    I myself am a law student and i have jsut posted my first blog on mental health as a fundament right. It would be great if you read it and follow my blog for more law content.

    Like

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