Online Learning During and After Covid-19

By Fizza Amjad | 16 August 2022

You would think we have mastered online teaching platforms in these 2.5 years of the pandemic
and post-pandemic world.

‘We cannot hear you’.
‘I think your mic is off’.
‘Can someone help me? I don’t know how to share my screen’.
‘How do I record this lecture?’
‘Kindly mute yourself, everyone’.
‘Sir, your mic is off’.

All of the above phrases are routine laments that any student of today’s world can relate to. Covid-19 has changed customs and traditional routines for the entire world. Suddenly we found ourselves learning more from the screen than by physically being present in a classroom. Some loved it, some hated it. Some found a perfect way to balance their daily life around the house along with online classes. They watered their plants (a newfound interest for many during the pandemic) and baked banana bread (somehow the entire world was just baking banana bread). On the other hand, some struggled to keep up with online schedules and to wake up with the same zest for lectures making sure the kids do not accidentally step into the room and carrying
out general errands out and about the house.

I had my deepest sympathies for the students who just got into the academic year of 2020, especially undergraduates. I wondered how could they possibly experience the best few years of their r life while sitting behind the screen? I thought about how they would not be exposed to a regular university environment and experience the social life that actually defines and molds one’s personality. It is not just the courses or classroom attendance aggregate that make up student life (or does it ever?). Anyway, that is not the point of this blog…

Covid-19 really flipped us around 180 degrees and gushed through our lives, challenging and pushing our elasticity to improvise and redefine the ‘norms’. It was hard. It was novel. It was uncertain. Lives were at risk health wise, but student lives were disrupted because in-class education ceased in most parts of the world. Teachers, administrations, and parents collectively struggled to set aside the panic mode and brainstorm ways to continue learning for students.

The tech world stepped in in all its glory to give the world the tools for home learning. Yes, I am talking about zoom calls. I must say I was the most impressed when my 64-year-old mother wanted to attend a zoom meeting with her friends (of the same age group) just to ‘hang out.’ Zoom really transformed the way of communication. It became possible and reachable to negotiate, learn, discuss, and attend conferences while sitting thousands of miles away. (Clearly, Skype did not take that cue.) Zoom has become the alias for ‘online meetings’ or ‘online learning.’ It is pretty remarkable how rapidly we adapt to the ways of the internet.

But really, you’d think we have learnt the user-friendly software by now. I became a grad
student in 2021. I embarked on this journey only because the institution agreed to resume f2f (face-to-face; another useful piece of lingo that is part of our lives now) classes, although a ‘hybrid’ option was offered to all the students as well. Hybrid classes: a mixture of online and f2f learning that gives a tremendous amount of flexibility to students and teachers to give or attend lectures while being anywhere in the world, or being mildly sick (could be covid), or just because you were being lazy. Yes, the flexibility came with its fair share of abuse from students. Come December 2021, the country plunges into another full lockdown till March 2022. (I, honestly, did
not sign up for this kind of behavior but it was what it was.) I experienced my first ever online learning via zoom meetings during some courses in these months. Overall, it was an average experience. The instructors were helpful and sensitive to our limitations. There was no major dysfunction in the lectures regarding the usage of software for online lectures. But it was challenging to keep the students engaged and involved, especially when it is a choice to keep the camera on or off. I, personally, do not even have a laptop that has a built-in camera. The presentations were dull and did not induce the necessary motivation to keep attentive during the lecture. Of course, it is equally novel for the teachers to conduct a class in a different
medium. There is a need to collectively navigate in that grey area where it is not defined how to perform, online.

Finally, in the first week of March, we stepped out of the full lockdown and resumed f2f lectures. But I attended a few lectures that were conducted on zoom because some professors fell prey to covid or simply because a professor or an expert from Ghana could give us a lecture via zoom because the internet has made this wonderful collaboration possible. The reality was that even if the academic institution has built up a solid basis of online lectures during the pandemic, it is still shaky as we have not established a capacity that ensures the tools used for online learning are used and taught to the instructors in full detail. The smallest command mute/unmute is still new for numerous teachers and students alike. Institutions and corporations who have purchased zoom meeting software or google meet software can fully record the meetings and have a plethora of amazing features that make online communication so efficient, but they did not expend their energy or their task forces to make the user learn how to use it or where to find that button simply. It is still an effort for most users to share their screen, or a big challenge to make sure the audio is connected to big speakers in conferences or big meeting rooms.

The last thing I want is to sound like a prudent person. Learning is beautiful, and it cannot be stopped whatever the medium or channel. We need to allocate resources and time to learn to use these efficient tools that are present to make our lives easy from the comfort of our own house (or bed). If the pandemic has taught us anything, it surely is that we must adapt. We were quick to find solutions, but we need to be fast in enabling capacities to fully understand, learn, educate and implement new mediums.