After living life with COVID-19 for over a year now, we have seen the world adapt in a plethora of different ways to cope with the new normal. One such relevant but major change is the migration of school and university classes to the internet. This change, I believe, has a set of its own advantages and disadvantages, and even these vary from place to place.
Personally, I experienced online classes at UW in the Spring 2020 term. Going into the term, I was very excited for online classes, since this meant that I could plan out my days to the fullest, without having to making allowance for time needed to get from one classroom to another and other distractions that might eat away at my time on campus – like meeting friends, going to a cafeteria to grab lunch, etc. I loved the fact that I could start my day at 9:00 AM, study for intervals of 2-3 hours, and take a short break to de-stress before getting back to my books. This, for me, and I am sure for many others as well, drastically boosted productivity. Since I did not have to move around much, it also meant I was not completely exhausted at the end of the day, which allowed me to use my spare time for hobbies and other important tasks. Furthermore, I could choose which subjects I wanted to study everyday, and if I was bored of a particular course, I could usually defer it to another day. This flexibility greatly aided my academic journey in the spring. Moreover, professors would upload all content to LEARN and I could easily revisit my “classes” and “lectures” whenever I wished. I could also watch the content videos repeatedly which bolstered my understanding of topics and naturally, helped me score higher on assignments and exams.
This brings me to an important drawback of online classes—higher difficulty of exams. For my Computer Science and Math courses, the professors were fully aware of the fact that during exams, the internet was a resource available for us to use at will. Considering this, exams were made to be either timed with greater difficulty, or considerably longer along with being considerably harder than the usual timed exams. Although we would have a span of two to three days to submit the latter type of exams, they would take a good eight to ten hours of work, which is mentally taxing. At some point, I would just want to get the exam over with. Also, when one has many midterms in a short period of time along with weekly assignments, having exams that take a very long time to finish pose a problem since it leaves one with less time to invest in other courses and assignments. I found myself having to drop a couple assignments for an important upcoming midterm. I would not say that this is a huge problem, but it was one that I was not expecting. However, situations like these need deliberate planning, well before the exam periods begin. On the flip side, having a few days to do exams allows students to take the exam at a convenient time. If one is suddenly not feeling well on the hour of an in-person exam, it becomes harder to avoid taking the exam whereas online, they can simply take the exam a few hours later when they are feeling better.
The enforcement of discipline by online classes can be a difficult change for many. Moreover, the online medium, depending on how courses are offered, can inhibit understanding of concepts as well. Since instructors have fixed office hours that are not in-person, it deters many from attending these office hours. This can happen for a multitude of reasons, including cases where students have other commitments at the same time as office hours. This leaves many questions unanswered. Having in-person classes also reduces the number of questions that arise during office hours, since people can simply raise their hand in class for questions, which is something online classes do not allow. Consequently, office hours are more packed and allow less time for many students to clear their doubts.
That being said, the kind of support offered by UW and its professors (for online classes) is unmatched by any other university, from what I hear about online classes from other acquaintances. It might seem challenging at first, and it does take one to experience it to get accustomed to it, but online classes are the future of education in our COVID-19 riddled world for the immediate future. Therefore, it becomes essential for us to embrace it for what it is—a change full of opportunities.