By Victoria Chen
I’m gonna be honest—I’m someone who loved to be at university. It’s where all my friends were, my optimal study environment and my second home.
COVID-19 snatched it all away from me.
Classes are still running, of course. We’ve moved online and I’m doing my final year in bed.
Instead of fighting for a seat in the lecture hall, I’m fighting my housemates for the internet. Instead of raising my hand to speak, I’m scrambling to message the chatroom before a faster typer steals my idea. Instead of a post-class Starbucks, I’m relegated to instant coffee.
Though I miss physical classes and human faces, it's clear online learning is the only way forward. Plus, I get to attend class from the comfort of my doona.
When uni first announced the transition, I delayed the inevitable installation of Zoom until three weeks later when I finally accepted reality.
Adapting to digital classrooms is the most arduous challenge I’ve faced since my keto diet.
As a student who enjoys asking questions in class, being stuck behind a computer screen felt inhibiting. In the first week, it took three sessions of the same tutorial to work up the courage to unmute myself before the tutor moved on.
Thankfully, everything is gradually improving. Classes where the teaching team listened to learner feedback—and acted on it—bettered immensely.
Implementing an efficient system for learners to communicate with the teaching team makes a huge difference. Emailing feels fruitless albeit excessive for small problems. Messaging platforms like Slack turn out to be more welcoming, allowing discussion to take place in a less formal environment.
Online classes are certainly interesting. Sometimes tutors forget to unmute their mic. Students change their backgrounds to the ocean or flip themselves upside down (why?). Cats can and will walk over keyboards (it’s adorable).
Having to make only the top part of me presentable to go to class is definitely a plus.
An hour before an online exam, I received an ominous text from a friend.
Do you want to do the exam together?
My friend had made a Facebook group with a few other people in our class. They were going to video call and swap answers during the exam.
Which leads me to wonder: how can any student be fairly assessed in these conditions? Most assessments were designed for traditional examination conditions—closed-book, eyes on your own paper, black or blue pen.
Now, with social distancing restrictions in place, the only way to assess students is over the internet.
Accessing the internet to cheat during assessment time is as simple as alt-tabbing; as simple as having a friend on the other end of your phone.
And what of students with poor internet connection? Students who live in rural areas, and have difficulty accessing technology? Will our current testing circumstances further discriminate against already disadvantaged students? And if half the students form cliques and collusion parties, what of students who struggle to make friends in their course, or are doing the right thing?
If universities and training organisations don’t quickly adjust their methods of assessment, how many students will be disadvantaged?
The success of online delivery seems largely dependent on having the right tools and support for students and listening to learner feedback. Since it seems we’re gonna be here for the long run, I’m expecting another couple of months of battling for internet speed (yes, my tutorial is more important than downloading Final Fantasy), instant coffee (Nescafe rocks) and exams in my pyjamas.
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