These past few semesters have been very different from the norm with the coronavirus pandemic leading to all UQ courses being offered via flexible delivery, and most students taking their courses online, at least in part. While a large section of the general workforce has transitioned to working from home, people have raised the point of whether working from home should now become the norm.
Studying from home is really no different to this and these past few semesters have shown that online learning is a possibility, and not such an outlandish possibility at that.
Now, studying online is definitely not easy for everyone and we shouldn’t act like it is. This is precisely why all courses should be offered with flexible delivery, allowing both in person and online learning. The only change that should really be made is that online learning be made available as well as in-person learning.
There are many students (me included) for whom studying online has been incredibly liberating. Staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic can seem sad and gloomy but to me it has been a breath of fresh air. I’ve been able to take complete control of my schedule and it also cuts out travel time and the bus fare between home and uni. I’ve had a lot more time to do things that I enjoy like hanging out with friends, when coronavirus restrictions permit it of course.
Being able to choose when I watch my lectures makes it possible for me to study in a pattern that fits in with other commitments like work. Now, you can usually catch up on lectures you miss them even during normal semesters, after all these lectures are almost always recorded and uploaded online. However, the key difference here is the lectures are made specifically for being viewed online are often, if not always exactly the same as the lectures themselves actually given and not changed in any way to be made more accessible for those watching along online.
An example of this is during my first semester at UQ I missed a lecture fairly early on during the semester. The camera in the classroom hadn’t worked and so a whole section of the board was missing, and I just wasn’t able to see it. Now, I was able to make up for it by looking through the lecture notes but even then, having university level concepts explained to you is a lot easier than having to work them out yourself using the cryptic markings of the lecture notes.
The issue doesn’t stop here, though, as the content of the lecture cannot simply be moved to a different mode and be expected to be just as effective in teaching. Both online and in person learning can be viewed later online, but the differences are obvious. With online classes tailor-made for students sitting in front of their computer, lessons become much more accessible with fewer, if any, sections of the lesson being only possible during the actual recording of the lesson.
Perhaps the key part of online learning that can’t be viewed later is breakout rooms. Last year I had a lecturer who used Zoom breakout rooms where students would discuss certain topics during nearly every single lecture. At least, that was the intention, although very often two or three students would talk while the rest said nothing, maybe a line or two if we were really talkative. It should be made clear though, this isn’t the students’ fault. I know from conversations with other students that many of us hate those kinds of forced group discussions and find it unconducive to learning. I’m sure many other students can relate to this and feel like their time would have been better spent doing literally anything else. Even if it was just writing down notes.
Since this is really the only part of online learning that is lost when you miss a lecture, this is a sacrifice many are willing to make, myself included. If people want to learn online, it should be made an option for all courses.
Of course, there are some parts of courses need to be done in person. For example, for pracs or placements, it is of course important to attend these in accordance with what is relevant to your study area, but most of the time, there are places to do these all across Queensland, or all across the world.
Some courses clearly have a crucial practical component that require attendance, like science, engineering, medicine, teaching, social work and many more. Such courses cannot be completed without this practical component and so that part of those courses doesn’t translate well to an online environment. However, even then, the option to do everything but the relevant practical components online should be made available. Perhaps it should also be made possible to have totally online classes for students able to provide a reason why they cannot attend in person classes.
So far, the focus has been entirely on students. However, there is another important aspect to online teaching that I have thus far failed to mention, and that is the university teaching staff. It could be said that a major drawback to this proposal is that it would obviously require more work for teaching staff. My response is that teaching staff should certainly not be disadvantaged by the permanent introduction of online teaching options. Academic staff should in general be given greater employment security and additional teaching staff should be employed specifically to cater to the demand for the online learning option. Indeed, those lecturers and tutors focused on online learning might wish to be given the option to work from home.
All in all, there is no reason why UQ should not start considering a permanent move towards enabling online learning. It would undoubtedly be beneficial to students. Of course, not all students want to do online learning, but the option should be made available for those of us who have found it liberating to make our own schedule, and being able to more precisely control our own timetables.