Like the other sectors, education has also undergone a significant transition in this Covid-19 pandemic. Let’s have some insights on Covid-19 and its impact on online education.
The COVID‑19 pandemic is also known as the coronavirus pandemic. It is an ongoing pandemic. The disease is known to be caused by the SARS‑CoV‑2 virus. December 2019 saw the inception of the disease in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and a pandemic on 11 March.
The main concern of the pandemic is how quickly the virus spreads. It spreads primarily via small droplets from coughing and sneezing. It can also spread from surfaces.
The Basic reproduction number, also known as Ro, which is the expected number of cases directly generated by one case in a population where all individuals are susceptible to infection, ranges between 2 and 3, ie, each infected person can spread the virus to 2 to 3 people.
The pandemic has caused disruption worldwide, ranging from education of the youth to economic activities such as manufacturing, trading and so on. It has also caused the largest global recession since the Great Economic Depression of the 1930s.
There has been a worldwide lockdown, which meant postponement or cancellation of many events such as sports, political and cultural events and so on.
Schools, colleges and universities have been shut down for a long time. Educational institutes in India were locked down on the 16th of March and have since been shut down.
Like all the other impacted sectors in the world, education has also undergone a significant change during the pandemic situation. After initially closing the colleges in March during the first lockdown, all Universities were turned to the mode of teaching and learning virtually. The professors were made to adopt the new technology and platforms for teaching using video calls, screen sharing etc.
Naturally, the classes are being conducted on video conferencing platforms, such as Google Meet and Zoom. This medium of transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the students is very different from offline teaching. Friction was seen as the professors found it very difficult to adapt to the relatively new technologies, especially the professors with years and years of offline teaching experience.
The health aspect of video conference classes is also questionable, as we students have to sit in front of a screen for hours, without an end. The typical day starts with first opening the eyes, followed by opening the laptop lid. This type of schedule has serious health concerns. The effectiveness of the classroom learning can also be questioned. The technology poses a block in the teacher’s ability to make the students learn. The interaction with students is inhibited. The biggest feedback mechanism in offline classes, the body language and the students’ reactions is absent in this mode of learning. Substantial amount of time is wasted setting up the classroom, waiting for everyone to join and so on. Limitation of resources, such as proper internet connectivity, devices to join the class, such as laptop, webcam and so on may hinder the learning process of students, especially coming from remote areas.
Of course, not everything in an engineer’s education can be taught through video chat. There are many aspects of learning that may be irreplaceable if access to lab equipment and hands-on experimentation are lost. For many students, it is these experiences that arm them for the real world. Preparing students for this reality without in-lab training is extremely difficult to accomplish, especially when it comes to Engineering, which is a practical field. Even if data sets from previous years or earlier this year are provided, for those students who haven’t seen or touched the apparatus, and video demonstrations of the experiments are given there are still certain drawbacks and some questions arises like
Where’s the hands-on here?
Where’s the trial and error?
Whatever else this is, it certainly isn’t the standard laboratory experience for students.
The pandemic and closure of college campuses has also caused hindrance in collaborative learning. In our university as well, most of the learning before the exams happened in groups in the library. Projects were also done in groups, however, it is more difficult to collaborate with the peers over the internet.
With the University Grants Commission (UGC) allowing higher education institutes to conduct exams online and in innovative ways, the take-home exams can be a huge relief for academicians but the major concern remains one of ensuring integrity.
These exams can be conducted digitally on any device available with the student, including the phone and laptop. Just like physical exams, candidates have to open a link at a given time and after verification, the exam will start and end at the given time. The verification can include a scan of the face and even biometrics and digital signatures depending upon the need of the institute but privacy and connectivity are among the key concerns for opting for completely digital exams.
It has been told to us that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will take care of plagiarism and prevent cheating during the exam. An AI-assisted proctor is a software that is often powered by artificial intelligence (AI), which keeps an eye on a candidate. It can note a change in voice, implying a whisper on a phone or even detect a person sitting next to the examinee. In many cases, proctors will also ask the student for a 360-degree plan of the room before beginning the exam, depending on the sophistication of the software being used.
However, in many cases, the exams were not conducted and the evaluation was done by different metrics, such as assignments and projects, or the result in the previous semester. We think this hinders the learning process, as we tend to learn much more under the stress of examinations. Examinations are like endorsements for us to learn, and evaluation on the basis of the previous semester means there would be knowledge holes as far as the semester of no exams is concerned. The cancellation of exams meant the students cannot assess what their level of understanding of the subject is.
Boon of online learning
- Offline centres and study material usually make learning monotonous and the student tends to lose interest after a while, but online learning platforms can be interesting.
- Time and energy spent on commuting is saved and can be invested to do other activities, such as learning a new hobby.
- Students and teachers are becoming more and more tech savvy and innovative ways of learning and teaching can be explored.
In our opinion, the online learning platform has more cons than pros. The advantages such as comfort and convenience sound very good, however, in the broader picture, the campus life is very different from the virtual college life. The campus experience teaches us so much more about life, such as soft skills, collaboration with peers and so on.
It is rather difficult to bridge the gap between the professors and students over a video call and there have been times of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Sitting in front of the screen is unhealthy for both the students and the professors. In a professional course such as engineering, which requires practical and hands-on learning experiences of the labs in the college campus. The evaluation schemes, such as grades based on previous semesters may cause knowledge gaps, as it is a proven fact that learning is more effective under stress. The written exams provide that stress which causes us to learn more effectively and efficiently. We are also able to assess our subject knowledge through exams.
- COVID-19 pandemic. (2020, May 5). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic
- COVID-19 pandemic in India. (2020, September 13). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic_in_India#Education
- Engineering Education in the Time of Covid | National Society of Professional Engineers. (n.d.). Www.Nspe.Org. Retrieved September 13, 2020, from https://www.nspe.org/resources/pe-magazine/may-2020/engineering-education-the-time-covid
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