Stay online or back offline?

By Ainina Hasnul and Maryam Nasir

Since we have gone through what the pros and cons of a physical and online classroom are, why don’t we go through the perception of students of International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) on this issue? 

As President of Psychology Students’ Association (PSYCSTA), Nur Farhana Abdul Halim feels that this current open and distance learning lacks many things that traditional learning used to have.

“Among the major issues are a decrease in two-way communication, an increased responsibility for both students and instructors studying and working from home, screen fatigue, and lack of proper devices and platform,” Farhana highlighted. 

As a leader of a student’s society that provides a training ground for psychology students to integrate and apply their psychological knowledge outside the classroom, virtual learning might not be easy for her. That’s why her society took a spunk on for the sake of the students’ mental health. 

“After conducting a survey and receiving feedback from the students, we organised a get-together session, a live platform for students to express their concerns and for academic members of the Department of Psychology to respond to feedback,” she simplified. 

Just like other students, she also thinks it is wise for universities in Malaysia to reopen physical classes with the decline of COVID-19 cases. 

“Online learning has not only proved to be burdensome to students who are underprivileged, but it is also ineffective in many cases. Students are not truly learning through this system.

“But universities must take precautionary measures before allowing full physical activities. We have to accept the fact that it will take a very long time before COVID-19 is fully eliminated, so we have to coexist with the virus by being cautious and alert,” Nur Fahana remarked.

It shows how students missed being at the physical classroom since the COVID-19 virus arrived. The lack of interaction between students and lecturers only leads to weak comprehension. Lecturers, along with the students, therefore, must try to adapt to the new norms. 

To make up for attendance, some lecturers tend to assign more assignments and tasks. Some do it to ensure students are kept attentive during online lecture.

President of Secretariat of Political Science, Iman Qistina Izzuddin Shah, shares that most of the complaints from students regarding virtual classroom are the overloaded assignments. This had eventually exhausted the students. 

Malay Mail recently reported University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany) president, Yap Wen Qing as saying that more assignments are given in e-learning mode.

Iman elaborated, “I’ve heard complaints where lecturers piled up too much reading materials and video projects last minute to be completed in a week or two, which take a real toll on the students.”

“We had to submit complaints and discuss arising matters with lecturers and the academic advisor for them to revise the coursework and deadlines,” she added.

Iman said most of the initiatives taken were mostly made by the institutions or the students themselves. 

“I don’t think there has been any direct intervention or guidelines set by the government in terms of mental health, providing guidelines, sufficient online support for students and teachers, especially in terms of internet connectivity and gadgets,” she said expressing her disappointment. 

Given all these reactions from the students, opinions are still subjective. The pros and cons vary from student to student. To be more critical, it even varies among the more and the less fortunate. Hence, it is up to Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) to do more research to meet the needs of students of all categories.

If it is up to you, would you stay online or go back offline?

The future of education, also known as e-learning, is here. Forced by the COVID-19 virus, students of higher learning institutions have no choice but to adapt to the online learning since March 2020. 

A year later in October 2021, fully vaccinated students were allowed to return to their respective campuses by MoHE. This was done gradually in stages for the 2021/2022 academic session through the IPT Recovery Plan. 

However, classes are still conducted online while some courses have adopted the hybrid mode. The hybrid mode of teaching and learning (HTL) is a combination of online learning as well as face-to-face classes in controlled groups.

Before allowing the stages of face-to-face teaching and learning sessions to be carried out, National Recovery Council (NRC) chairman, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, requested that MoHE present their assessment reports at the NRC meeting. It is only then that a decision can be made.

Matters of concern include students’ safety, parental concerns, and COVID-19 vaccinations for both the students and lecturers. 

Very recently this year, Dr. Muhammad Noor Abdul Aziz, lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Universiti Utara Malaysia, told The Star that flipped classrooms shall be considered for universities. 

He stated that students should attend classes by rotation as this technique controls the size of groups while being able to adhere to the standard operating procedures (SOP).

This way, students would not have to fully depend on the Internet for their education. Similarly, Mohammad Noor felt that we could not fully depend on face-to-face learning either. 

It is safe to say that two years of adapting to online classes could potentially make it hard for students and lecturers to revert fully back to physical classes. We must accept the new norm. 

We have heard many debates over the past two years regarding physical and virtual classrooms. A number of opinions have been expressed by students, parents, and lecturers for educational institutions to assess the effectiveness of the current teaching and learning system. Both have their pros and cons. To come out with a cohesive decision, the advantages and disadvantages must be properly evaluated. 

Physical classrooms provide room for students to be healthy, experience character development, and polish their self-discipline. Students are able to move around and improve their concentration. 

Having friends and lecturers around in the same setting enables students to interact, socialise and learn from one another. This in hand builds the students’ character. Half of the lessons learned in universities are those in between lectures. Schedules for physical classes require a routine that fosters self-discipline. 

The virtual classroom on the other hand, provides an alternative for the students. The flexible nature of the classes allows students to manage their schedules accordingly. Furthermore, it provides good training for students to be equipped with digital skills. This will benefit them in the future.

Discrimination and bullying that often time exist in physical classes are less likely to occur during online classes. One of the disadvantages of physical classrooms is the potential for bullying is higher in such setting.

Physical classrooms, unlike virtual classrooms, require higher expenses and are not disabled-friendly. Meanwhile, in virtual classroom, new problems arise. Full dependency on online learning creates an educational gap between those with and without access to technology and computer literacy.

Without a concrete model of virtual classroom teaching and learning methods, both lecturers and students have to struggle to find effective ways to conduct teaching and learning process. 

Both learning modes need to be improvised in a way to make teaching and learning fun and enjoyable for students to keep up with knowledge seeking. Although gaining high marks in the class is not the only way to measure students’ success, experience and understanding really matter.

Be it physical or online classroom teaching and learning, we need to do the right thing through hard work and passion. We need to always be prepared mentally and physically. Always think everything happens for a reason. It is therefore vital to put full faith in whatever we do! ***

(This is part 2 of the two-part series of special reports pair assignment on the topic “Online Teaching and Learning” for Feature Writing class)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *