Online Education and the COVID Pandemic

Learning is the process of acquiring new understanding, knowledge, behaviours, values, attitudes and preferences. Brown, Roediger III and McDaniel define learning as acquiring knowledge and skills and having them readily available from memory so you can make sense of future problems and opportunities. While Driscoll defines learning as a persisting change in human performance or performance potential; this must come about as a result of the learner’s experience and interaction with the world.



As India is struggling to control the spread of the Covid-19, the universities have remained closed for an indefinite period due to lockdowns. They have shifted to online mode of learning to continue the teaching- learning process. The most commonly used teaching platforms are Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc.

Online education has opened up various advantages for the university students. Firstly, they are able to study in the comfort of their homes. Secondly, students don’t need to travel to the universities to attend the classes. Thirdly, many teachers are, nowadays, using interesting teaching tools like slideshows, animations, etc for teaching. The universities are now able to impart education at lower cost vis-à-vis the conventional offline teaching method.



However, several students are facing various challenges in the online education system. Many students don’t have laptops, smartphones, etc to attend the online classes. Sometimes, there are connectivity problems and technical glitches, which disrupt the classes. Many students don’t find sitting in front of a ‘screen’ for a long time interesting.


This article is an attempt to outline the experiences of university students of India, based on various research papers.


STUDENTS' EXPERIENCES


Anukaran Dutta, in his paper titled ‘Impact of Digital Social Media on Higher Education: Alternative Approaches of Online Learning during Covid- 19 pandemic crisis,’ mentioned that total 15 interviews were conducted along with three Focus Group Discussions (FGD) from three selected universities of India. Total 18 students participated in all the meets. Moreover, 67 feedbacks were collected from students participating in online classes. Dutta’s study stated that online learning has become a necessity since the outbreak of the Covid- 19. Teachers have been putting a lot of effort to make the online learning creative and interesting. Students responded that in the midst of the negativity caused by the Covid- 19 pandemic, the online classes engaged the students in a routine. Teachers are also providing PPTs, PDFs and other study materials regularly as an augmentation to the online lectures. Online modes have facilitated interaction between the teachers and the students in these turbulent times through video conferencing.


However, the study also revealed that around 80% respondents reported that they were undergoing stress, boredom and anxiety from the online classes. Many students reported that they were unable to attend the classes properly due to network glitches. The technical glitches arise in the middle of the classes due to network problems, system errors and software updates.





Lokanath Mishra, Tushar Gupta and Abha Shree, in their paper titled ‘Online teaching- learning in higher education during lockdown period of COVID- 19 pandemic’, conducted a research based on all the students and teachers of the Mizoram University. There were 3 teachers (1 professor, 1 associate professor and 1 assistant professor) and 10 students (5 post- graduate students and 5 research scholars) from each department. 26 out of 39 departments were chosen for the study. They also selected 10 students and 10 teachers for semi-structured interviews using nested concurrent sampling design. The researchers prepared separate questionnaires for teachers and students and also conducted the semi- structures interviews for understanding the respondents’ views on the online education system.


Mishra, Gupta and Shree found that the Learning Management System (LMS), a portal prepared by the Mizoram University, where teachers uploaded the study materials for the students, was popular among the teachers. However, it was popular among only 60% students due to connectivity and network issues. In spite of the availability of various online modes for communication, both teachers and students preferred WhatsApp, Telegram and e-mail for communication. Many students also watched videos related to their course on YouTube and SWAYAM Prabha, along with attending their live lectures and Facebook and YouTube live streaming.


Many students of the study group responded that online education gave them an opportunity to get in touch with their lessons outside the four walls of their classroom. However, some students stated that they experienced lack of attention and interest during the online lectures, as they have never studied through laptops and smartphones before. Many students reported connectivity problem during the classes. Students usually find 1.5- 2 GB mobile data per day affordable. But whenever the data limit gets exhausted due to participation in online activities, they encounter problems. Students almost unanimously found recorded lectures uploaded by their teachers on the LMS portal suitable, as they can pause the video in between and take down notes or watch any content several times. The students at Mizoram University belonged to different socio- economic backgrounds. Several students have to contribute in their household chores, which hinders them from attending regular classes. Financial constraint is also a major challenge for many students.


Nanigopal Kapasia, Pintu Paul, Avijit Roy, Jay Saha, Ankita Zaveri, Rahul Mallick, Bikash Barman, Prabir Das and Pradip Chouhan, in their paper titled ‘Impact of Lockdown on the Learning Status of Undergraduate and Postgraduate students during Covid- 19 pandemic in West Bengal, India’, conducted research to understand the impact of the lockdown and the subsequent online education system on the learning outcomes of various college and university students of West Bengal. A total 232 students responded to the survey conducted by them. About 70% of the respondents were linked with online learning. Most of the students were dependent on android phones for the online classes. Most of the students reported that they were experiencing anxiety, poor internet connection and scarcity of a proper study environment at home. The burden was larger for the students belonging to poor and marginalized section of the society.


INFERENCES


The three research papers mentioned in the previous section univocally infer that the students are, in general, finding the online classes with slides and animations more interesting than online teaching. The study materials shared by their teachers are very helpful for the students. The most commonly used teaching platforms are Zoom, Google Meet and Google classroom. However, the online lectures have also become mundane, clerical and uninteresting for them. The major challenge that students are facing in the online education system is the connectivity problem and technical glitches. Students also reported that they were undergoing stress and anxiety in the current system.


RECOMMENDATIONS


Mishra, Gupta and Shree recommended that educational institutes should provide regular training to the teachers to enhance their pedagogy in the online classes. Universities need to adopt those portals for sharing study materials with the students, which consume less data, so that students with limited mobile data and slow connectivity can easily access the materials. Universities need to provide counselling services to the students to help them cope up with anxiety and stress. They should also encourage interaction and feedback mechanism between the teachers and students. Dutta pointed out that the classroom teaching has various benefits such as collaborative learning, enhancement of critical thinking skills, improvement of social skills, etc., which cannot be fulfilled by the online mode of learning. For students facing connectivity issues, the universities can provide them extra classes after they reopen.



There is an urgent need for universities, state governments and the central government to devise policies at every level to make online education more inclusive since there seems to be a lack of any other alternatives during this pandemic. An implicit assumption that all students have technological devices, internet connectivity or the mental and physical state to undergo hours of online learning and examinations, with minimum or no support from outside is apathetic and ignorant if not abominable.


REFERENCES


i. Mishra, Lokanath., Shree, Abha., Online teaching- learning in higher education during lockdown period of COVID- 19 pandemic, International Journal of Education Research ‘Open’, Vol.1, 2020.


ii. Dutta, Anukaran., Impact of Digital Social Media on Indian Higher Education: Alternative Approaches of Online Learning during Covid- 19 Pandemic Crisis, ResearchGate, 2020.


iii. Kapasia, Nanigopal., Paul, Pintu., Roy, Avijit., Saha, Jay., Zaveri, Ankita., Mallick, Rahul., Barman, Bikash., Das, Prabir., Chouhan, Pradip., Impact of lockdown on learning status of undergraduate and postgraduate students during COVID- 19 pandemic in West Bengal, India, Children and Youth Services Review, Vol 116, 2020


PICTURE CREDITS


eCampusNews, rappler.com, WikimediaCommons


Shubham Das is pursuing a Masters in Economics from Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.