I’m enjoying online learning

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Benois on Unsplash

I began writing this article right after my online seminar where I contributed to a discussion about Critical Discourse Analysis from the removed setting of my house. As boring as the topic might be, the seminar wasn’t. After hearing the voices of dissatisfaction on campus over this new style of ‘blended learning’, I picked up this article to voice a slightly different take, which I’m sure many others can relate to. I actually enjoy online teaching.

But first you must know my situation. I’m a third year Film student, who’s studying as an overseas student (the same as a UK national, except we pay more for the same thing). I have no specific learning needs, and I enjoy a certain level of privilege in terms of access to technology: I am living on campus so I have no issues with my internet, I have a working laptop with a mic and webcam, and a comfortable space to work in. Right – let’s get started.

Online lectures are my new favourite thing. Gone are the times when the slideshow or lecturer is too fast, or both; I can pause my recording. Showcased in a podcast manner, this new style of lecturing makes sure that I don’t have a race to note down all the points on the slide, while the lecturer babbles about how great this film is. If I don’t enjoy it, I can even skip the slide. Such a luxury as being able to pause in lectures has helped my learning experience immensely. One of my modules even splits the lecture into 4-5 parts, with some parts being a video to watch, or a little article to read. This helps with lecture interaction, something which I think is far more useful than a person talking to you about a topic for an hour.

While the concept of an online lecture was easy to digest, the thought of an online seminar did cause some metaphorical stomach rumbles. I couldn’t help but be nervous about online meetings: the breaking of speech, and the incomplete sentences were annoying. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the way people were interacting with it. Breakout rooms felt like magic when I was first introduced to them, and the discussions had in those close interactions with people were insightful, informative and unique.

Even though I’ve had an astonishingly satisfactory experience with my degree until now, there are some glaring holes in this form of teaching. Anybody who is even slightly technologically disadvantaged will not feel the same as me: internet issues do occur for those with unreliable connections, resulting in poor buffering rates for lectures, loss of flow in seminars, and overall disinterest in a course they’re paying for. What’s worse is that the connection problems lead to nobody understanding what they’re saying, which in-turn leads to this comically awkward situation where the lecturer just says “okay” and moves on.

While I do acknowledge the problems with this medium, I will continue to defend this form of teaching as an alternative to the ‘normal’ way. It takes a bit of getting used to, but at the end of the day, it’s still just as draining of a course, with the same amount of contact hours and private study hours. Which brings me to the final point about price.

I pay approximately twice the amount that a UK national does, and I don’t agree with a partial tuition refund just because it’s an online course. I’m engaging the same way I was, and so are the lecturers: I’m getting answers to emails, getting my lectures, my seminars delivered, and everything else that comes with my course. Where is the issue with that? I fail to understand the issue of ‘greater engagement’ that in-person teaching lacks. I don’t want my tuition fee to reduce, which might lead to the staff being paid less, or even worse, being laid off for something that is nobody’s fault. Our hospitality and teaching staff are paid a pittance anyway as it is.

If I were to think back to my seminar today, it felt normal. It wasn’t normal if I compared it to the past 2 years, but it does attempt to mimic it. Nobody knew that a pandemic would affect us for so long, but it has – and that’s just the reality we have to live in. Universities have taken the same course they’ve been teaching for years and adapted to deliver it online, which involves a major adjustment on their part as well. Academics who struggle with switching a tab now have to organise a breakout room on Zoom – while the threat of a pay-cut is looming over their heads.

The change is something that nobody wanted, hoped for, or could even imagine. The disdain for universities will not make the situation any better, or any safer. In a time where coronavirus could kill me or anyone my age, I don’t want to get out of the house for a seminar that I can engage with online. An online course might not be ideal for some, but neither is the situation. In life, sometimes the second-best becomes the best.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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