“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
COVID-19 has brought our everyday rush hours to a sudden standstill. Higher-learning institutions worldwide abruptly shut down campuses in an attempt to prevent its transmission, and immediately transitioned to online learning, giving rise to a deep sense of confusion and anxiety among students. The entire educational fraternity is coping with the lockdown’s impact on academic schedules and completion of syllabi, as the learning process has shifted from normal “chalk & talk” to technology-based learning.
Let’s examine some positives and negatives resulting from the shift to virtual/online learning – from the students’ perspective. On the bright side:
- The convenience and flexibility online study affords students is beyond their wildest imaginings. Despite residing in different geographic locations, students, can access resources and study materials from disparate and far-fling sources with a single click.
- Another big advantage of online/virtual learning is that it is student-focused. Teachers are finding creative ways to engage their students, which leads to greater retention and better understanding of the subject matter, and increases the synergy between students and teachers through an interactive learning environment.
- The multi-media format of courses allows students to grasp information more rapidly, and is very engaging and appealing to people who are visual learners. As they say, “a picture says a thousand words.”
- Students have the opportunity to learn from the comfort of their home, creating a comfortable and stress-free learning environment, without the pressure of cutthroat competition that sometimes prevails in classrooms.
- Online learning has eliminated the need for travel to and from school, so students may continue participating in discussion sections and lectures and spending more time in fruitful work.
Online learning has its downsides, too:
- One of the foremost challenges for students is time Many students lack the skill of adhering to a fixed schedule, and may experience trouble managing the self-guided workload. Limited social interaction, including normal classroom discussion, can only take place through chat rooms, online forums, or other video platforms, which may reduce personalized attention and, in turn, lead to a decrease in enthusiasm for studying.
- Put bluntly, some college students can be more lethargic and excuse-minded, with a tendency to procrastinate. Without a proper, strict timetable, they may not feel the need to study, and may start actively avoiding their studies after a prolonged period of at-home schooling.
- Online learning lacks an effective way to assess, in real time, whether or not the students are paying attention and actually grasping the concepts.
- Self-discipline takes a major toll. As there is no actual face-to-face human interaction involved, students can take advantage of the freedom of the virtual environment. This can lead to distraction and “wandering around” (e.g., surfing the web, responding to email, etc.) instead of actually listening to a lecture.
- With webinars/video lectures, there are no peers with whom to discuss the course, so the type of in-person group discussion that facilitates greater understanding of the subject does not take place. Unless educators or students set up study/discussion groups, students will miss out on that traditional exchange of knowledge and solving of queries with other students.
- Not everyone is technologically sound. Persistent issues – such as frequent loss of Internet connectivity, buggy software, or lack of proficiency operating online applications – could limit and discourage some from pursuing virtual learning.
Every learning environment faces these types of challenges. It is the students’ responsibility to analyze all these factors and define a path to accomplish their goals. Ultimately, it is the determination of those who constantly consider their learning who will distinguish themselves from the rest of the crowd. Although virtual learning hasn’t yet won the hearts of young minds, I firmly believe that a collective effort from every student – with sheer motivation and zeal to thrive and be productive however they can during this critical global crisis – will benefit their future careers.
The drastic shift to virtual learning is helping us to explore technological solutions to remote schooling, and also to discover and overcome the drawbacks. Hopefully, these experiences will serve as preparation for future challenges that come with the next epidemic, pandemic or other disaster.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of IEEE-USA or IEEE.
Sunder Eshwar Kodi, Vrushti Pancholi, Vatsal Parikh, Ridham Chitre, and Dhruvinsinh Rathod are IEEE student members at the A. D. Patel Institute of Technology, New Vallabh Vidyanagar, India. All are active in the IEEE ADIT Student Branch.