Learning online: a student’s perspective

R Aishwarya

Last year, as the pandemic struck, I realized that transience is the only permanence in life. My physical schooling experience suddenly ceased to be. Initially, like everyone else, I was intrigued and excited at the possibility of online education due to its novelty then. My hopes were high. However, only after a week’s worth of remote classes, I observed a big slump in energy.

People easily assume that children prefer virtual education to a physical school. After a year of online education, however, I can confidently refute this belief. Online classes are a hitherto uncharted territory for students and teachers alike. Due to its novelty (and limitations) educators often resort to supplying information only and sending resources to students in the name of learning. Deep down, we all know it hardly works because most students, after a point, do not feel the need to peruse the resources as they don’t relate with the information. Personally, I had experienced a sense of exhaustion after a month or two of online classes. It was at this point that I decided to pause and reflect.

There were quite a few challenges and difficulties that I could perceive. There were issues that we as students could solve on our own like taking active steps to manage time and self-pace our studies. But, there were others which, I believe, could be rectified by teachers as well, which I am sure will be mutually beneficial in creating a stimulating and creative classroom virtually.

The following are some of the challenges that students often face during online classes along with a few viable solutions:

  1. Engagement
    Without proper and consistent engagement by teachers during online classes there will be a loss of interest among students. There are two aspects that I can, personally, attribute causing the lack of engagement in online classes.

One reason, of course, is the loss of physical interaction. Frequently, I daresay, teachers look for cues through body language or other expressions, and accordingly, change the pace of their teaching. This is impossible in the virtual class. Hence, even if the students fail to grasp a concept clearly, teachers tend to move on. Students also do not convey their thoughts directly and the only way out is by written or verbal communication, which causes hesitation and discomfort. Whenever I have doubts, I certainly experience a moment’s hesitation as the warmth that we associate with physical presence is absent.

Fortunately, there is software that can solve this problem. Software or features within ed-tech software like Google forms, Peardeck and mentimeter offer resources to assess a student’s level of understanding and comfort on a particular topic. All the above software offer features that seek to collect feedback from students with the benefit of anonymity. Hence, there is a higher probability for students to voice their concerns and pose questions in an honest manner.

Apart from these tools, teachers can switch on their video mode when possible. To be able to see a teacher is comforting and reassuring. This holds true for all classes but more so for the younger classes. This is because it creates a virtual presence of the teacher, thereby helping a student relate to the emotions of the teacher, at least on a minimal scale through his/her facial expressions.

The second aspect of engagement is active interaction. It may not be a surprise to anyone that online classes curtail interaction. This may be because students are hesitant to communicate via online platforms or that the teachers tend to overload a class with too much information as they are unable to fathom students’ perspectives. Classes, sometimes, turn into a monologue. Students cannot sustain their interest in such situations. To break the monologue and monotony, teachers could use ways like:

• Requesting a student to recapitulate a topic before the start of a new topic/lesson. Ensure that different students are picked to answer questions each time to make them more attentive. This was a personal experience of mine from our sociology classes. When our teacher asked us to reiterate the topics that were taught in previous classes, we got into the habit of taking down notes and revising before the class began.

• In subjects where numerical problems can be used, a student can be assigned a problem the previous day or at the start of the class to solve when the class is about to conclude. This way teachers can ascertain if a student has understood the concepts and ensure attentiveness during class hours. In our economics classes last year, we were often assigned to solve some problems after class hours. I can confidently say that this practice helped us get comfortable with the sums and strengthened our attention spans. Also, after analyzing our results, our teacher was able to guide us appropriately and identified the areas that needed correction.

In between classes, videos related to the topic can be played or interactive slides can be displayed. During our history lessons last year, we watched a couple of videos that made our subject more relevant and stimulated discussions and debate. Interactive and creative slides like the ones present in software like Peardeck and infographic software kindle curiosity as visual elements add relevance and depth to a topic. Another interesting software is Mentimeter, which records votes and collates one-word answers to display it as a beautiful mood board. An interesting activity was also conducted by my English teacher with the help of Google slides called Hexagonal Activity. In this activity, children have to connect a few interrelated concepts and explain their connections. It is both invigorating and visually pleasing. It, also, gives a creative outlet for students along with acting as a great tool for revision.

  1. Self-paced learning
    Online classes give absolute freedom for students to design the pace of their learning. I, personally, consider it to be a great advantage. But, it also connotes that one should constantly be (self) motivated to learn. Self-motivation can only be sustained by conscious effort, support and recognition. Unfortunately, in online classes we do not have a structured routine and discipline. In online classes, one has to consciously summon energy to withhold the drive and desire to learn. For this, I only ask teachers to test students. I don’t mean serious examinations. I feel that routine testing helps learners. This could be oral, written or online MCQ quizzes. Last year, our school introduced a quiz feature in our ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). I vividly remember how testing through these quizzes changed my studying patterns and approach. When you are left with your own devices you are constantly evolving to make best use of this opportunity. By creating quizzes, we get a structure to work with and a sense of discipline ensues. Google forms are a great tool for answering subjective questions. Nevertheless, there are quizzing tools that have various options tailored to satisfy both teachers’ and students’ needs. Testing helps students to correct themselves and prepares them to take up examinations as well.
  2. Ambience and environment
    Apart from academic pursuits in schools, we as students learn and bond in different ways. Friendly conversations, physical presence and being in an environment that aids learning are unmatched when it comes to education. As all these factors are absent in an online schooling environment, this unequivocally has a detrimental impact on children. Added to the fact that we are confined within the four walls of our homes with technological devices, whose use is unrestricted, students are bound to get distracted. This is truly a technical issue but it has an emotional solution. During online classes, sometimes both students and teachers become a little mechanical and robotic. We have this impression that we are being scrutinized and scanned for our every move. This is certainly a technical guarantee as we are unable to see each other physically. But, if we stay away from our professionalism and try to initiate a personal connection, it will help all of us to grow. Even if it takes time, it is vital to have a free space to express and enjoy each other’s presence. You could ask students to write diary entries, engage in informal conversations and express themselves in any creative form like art or storytelling. This may sound insignificant. But, it is very powerful for someone who might be severely affected by the loneliness of the lockdown. So, just by bonding as we have always done, it would take a lesser toll on us, even if it takes time. Students would be thrilled to have a semblance of normalcy and be more productive as their mental health improves. It will, in the end, be a blissful experience for both teachers and students.

The aforementioned challenges are probably the most common issues that students face. While there are many technical, institutional or systemic limitations (which cause the majority of problems in online education), my focus in this particular article is to enlist the challenges that can be solved within the precincts of a classroom along with viable solutions.

We have certainly come a long way in our approach towards online education from the start of the pandemic. A multitude of changes means multitude opportunities to grow. There are challenges that come with every change but that is what makes life interesting.

The author is an alumni of Delhi Public School Coimbatore. Currently, she is about to enter college. An avid reader with a deep love for nature, she intends to create sustainable lifestyles and promote zero waste living in the near and foreseeable future. She can be reached at [email protected].

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