Digital learning amidst Covid-19

Allison Amin

Every day for the past few weeks, colleges and universities around the country have made the announcement that in person classes are postponed to help in controlling over the spread of coronavirus and thus moved to a safer means of conducting lectures.

Online education is a very complex endeavour, it is important to set realistic understandings and expectations of how it can support students affected by coronavirus measures. This is especially the case for colleges that did not used online education platform very frequently before the coronavirus outbreak.

Both academics and students may lack the training needed for quality online learning. Normally, developing online lectures involves a team of experts including academics, instructional designers, programmers and illustrators. The team will collectively follow systematic design processes. Yet in this quick transition, academics who weren’t teaching frequently online or were a bit timid to teach online have started lecture that have not been devised in this way.

Facing this unprecedented challenge, most academics have chosen to do live teaching using telecommunication tools, delivering the same lectures online at normal class hours. Such simple “onlinification” of face to face lectures will result in positive experiences for academics and students only time can tell.

For many students that will be using smartphones, there are significant differences between presenting slides on projection screens in classroom lecture and on small handheld screens. The font size and page ratio of the slides needs to be carefully checked and revised to improve their readability. If course materials such as key texts are not properly digitised, students’ learning can be completely disrupted.

It’s always a challenge for academics to maintain students’ attention in face to face classes but online lecture will be even more challenging, to capture the attention of students playing online games while keeping the lecture on in the background for attendance will a be task to overcome. At a minimum, each student must have access to high-speed internet from where they are isolated. For students who are not adequately equipped with basic technological tools and skills, watching poor quality pre-recorded or live online lecture videos will be frustrating.

It is impossible to know each student’s learning or health conditions during this crisis. Considering many students may be isolated socially and physically and feeling anxious, how ready will they be to learn online? Even under normal circumstances, distance students experience feelings of isolation caused by a lack of face to face interaction and social experience.

Given the spread of the outbreak, this sudden shift to online learning will not stop but flourish. Colleges will need to carefully consider how to assess and evaluate student learning outcomes, which will open a whole new set of challenges. Students who find online learning inferior to face to face lectures may at first be reluctant of such a method but hindering or stopping students and professors from innovating and experiencing new way to learn is the only way in this crisis.

The perceived ease and usefulness of online education is largely influenced by users’ first experiences. This has a significant impact on its actual adoption. The idea that online education is being rapidly implemented even at a time of crisis excites me, as it may result in online education being not discarded after the coronavirus outbreak ends but till then faculty members at the front line of this movement need more support now than ever before.