As the online semester comes to a close, there are many different feelings that go through the minds of academics.
While conducting online classes, we are reminded on a daily basis of the number for COVID-19 victims that has fluctuated during this Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO). This RMCO was supposed to be imposed till 31 August 2020, but with the steady stream of double digits of late, the condition is still worrying.
If COVID-19 came up with terms we didn’t know, now we have terms such as - flattening the curve, pandemic, mortality rate, cluster, hotspots or red zones, lockdown, stay at home or movement control order, social distancing, contact tracing, reproductive numbers and zoonotic diseases.
The world of academia also has its share of new vocabulary during COVID-19 – online classes, Internet instability, Zoom or Microsoft teams, Facebook live or Discord, private breakout rooms, personal meeting ID, webcams, webinars, marking online and Digital Open Days.
I believe many academics will agree with me that the online semester that is ending soon was nothing but intense. Intense with the keeping up with the semester, intense with the number of Zoom/Teams sessions for live lectures and/or tutorials. Some even used Facebook ‘live’ or for the gamers at heart, Discord. Believe me when I tell you, if there was a technology out there that would help the delivery of classes, the chances are, most of us have tried and used it. And don’t even get me started on the recording software and devices.
The marking online was equally intense (intense being the operative word here). Gone were the days where you could laze on the sofa armed with a red pen and scribble your comments. Now you actually have to conduct your markings on the documents itself and make sure feedback was on time. Of course most of us managed in due time with the steady stream of assignments coming in, in order to guide the students through different phases of the semester. No doubt, some of us would also need a new pair of lenses before heading into the new semester.
Well at least I no longer have comments from the students that they don’t understand my cursive handwriting as I scribbled red ink all over their assignments. I used to tell the students that I have a different font that runs with my brain and my hand is too slow to catch up. They used to laugh at me but took that in stride.
It’s also a different story when we just look at these online classes from the lecturer’s perspective. What about things that the students don’t quite understand from the delivery of online classes? Questions were in abundance and that would only mean that you had to take time to answer queries from different learning platforms. Hence, the need for rules of engagement, as we’re not online like 7/11.
The broadcasting kids that I had this semester were pretty laid-back so it was fun teaching them. I could imagine how much ‘funner’ it would have been doing this particular class face to face. I did tell them that I was from the old school of thought and that seeing them and doing discussions in class physically was preferred. But despite the challenges, they came out on top with fantastic projects.
So as I bade my students good luck for the upcoming semester, of course the burning question was “will next semester will be online too?”
Return to classes
A few days later Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Noraini Ahmad announced that higher education campuses would fully reopen in October, while 30% of private higher education institutions could start returning from July, in line with the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities’ request.
Universities have already started to plan this out with social distancing for classes, labs and studios. Face masks, sanitisers and temperature sensors need to be in place before all universities are opened for face-to-face lectures as per normal in two months’ time. That would be a different kind of challenge as we go forward with the global classroom of a combination of brick (face-to-face) and online learning spaces.
I was chatting with an old friend recently and he gave me this analogy for COVID-19. He said the pandemic is akin to driving a car. You need to be careful when you drive but you can never foresee accidents that are caused by the other drivers. It’s the same thing with COVID-19; you can be careful and follow all the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) but if other people don’t do the same, we would be infected anyway.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also reiterated this when he said, "We’re asking everyone to make the decisions about where they go, what they do and who they meet as life-and-death decisions – because they are. It may not be your life, but your choices could be the difference between life and death for someone you love, or for a complete stranger. We all have a part to play in protecting ourselves and one another from COVID-19".
So stay vigilant coz it’s still out there, lurking at every corner. And to all my fellow academics, it’s time to renew your licences for the next round of classes.
Associate Professor Dr Roslina Abdul Latif is with the School of Media and Communication at Taylor’s University, Lakeside Campus.