Experience of online Learning during the Pandemic

Medhavi Bhatti
From holding hands to sharing screens,
From blackboards in class to whiteboards
From chalks and markers to keyboards,
From the keep quiet command to the speak up demand,
From no mobile to turn on your mobile,
From carrying bags to carrying charger banks,
From bunking classes to muting them,
From maintaining notebooks to taking screenshots,
From teacher’s assessment to self-assessment,
From the classroom to zoom and meet…… It’s been a journey of change from every conventional method to a technical one, a journey that on its way shifted everything from offline to online.
A journey that changed something real to everything virtual……. It’s been a journey from school to home.
It’s been more than a year since we began this long unknown journey. There have been decades before this when nothing significant happened and now, here are these weeks when it seems that decades have happened. Life still goes on but it is never the same again. It seems like yesterday when the pandemic forced a lockdown and yet it feels forever since everything seems changed. Urban communities are returning to what is considered normal. Lockdowns have started lifting and many of us are beginning to feel we can witness a return, however sluggish and incomplete, to “ordinary.”
Although being locked down has been pretty gruelling on balance, the surprise is that it has changed the definition of ‘what is normal’.
What seemed impossible a year ago has become the new normal now and what began as a temporary arrangement to the chalk-and-talk teaching, seems to have become its substitute. It’s been a year during which the unfathomable has become commonplace with, frankly, unnerving frequency. It’s funny how nothing seemed to change but suddenly now when we look back, everything looks ‘differently normal’.
The experience of online learning has more or less been the same for everyone. This learning in the age of COVID-19 has been no less than a roller coaster ride for teachers, students and parents equally across the world. But the ride has been even scarier for us, students who leaped from schools to colleges. How we all wanted to start a new chapter, give it the heading of the college experience, read the three paged chapter with a hundred stories, live it in yet a thousand ways, how we wanted to explore the new journey and make it as vast as possible, at least vaster than a school to home journey. But how ironic it sounds, that we are now confined to a journey as small as a screen.
Sitting in front of the laptop, facing hundreds of unknown profile pictures, instead of befriending hundreds of new faces; listening to the teacher’s voice instead of ‘watching’ her speak for the first time; giving the disinterested “yes. We understand”, without even knowing the topic and clicking on different links one after the other instead of actually walking up and down to the class, the definition of college classes for sure has changed and for sure in ways unexpected. The shift from school to college was meant to be something exciting and different, different and yet conventional in a sense. But what it all comes to is that instead of embracing the unknown and making it known, we have started adjusting to the unknown.
Its unquestionable that technology may prove to be useful in education when employed thoughtfully. But what also remains true is that in the domain of education, the current pandemic has proved beyond any doubt that we need schools, colleges, and other institutions to impart not just knowledge but education to the masses who more and more are searching for it.
It’s true that online learning has opened for us new options to explore while studying. It undoubtedly has made learning innovative and it has changed us in ways indescribable, in ways that remain unchangeable and, in the process, has added a pinch of twist to the conventional ways of teaching, and learning. What also remains true is that this change however innovative, fancy, and permanent it seems, still remains a ‘virtual’ alternative; an option that would always lack the ’emotional touch’… the open class discussions, the mockery and jokes, way the lie ‘yes, we understand’ is easily caught up by the teacher in the blink of an eye, and all those contours which are often far too obvious and yet simply mysterious.
It’s true that we probably read a lot more than we possibly could have read in our textbooks, but it’s also true that to study in the classroom sitting on the permanent spot with a notebook, and a temporary borrowed pen gives memories to cherish forever. We do enter alone but then leave with a bag full of friends, experience and, memories and hundreds of other lessons in between which make us who we are. And let’s be honest, if we could exchange all of this with the luxury of the bedroom class, we would trade it in a heartbeat, won’t we? The little anxiety before entering the examination hall is still better than having to sit for online exams for hours partially unprepared; that bunk in the canteen still remains irreplaceable by the zoom calls and the WhatsApp chats; that trying to find a million excuses for late assignment submission still remains more adventurous than the ‘am I audible’ excuse; that no matter how much reality we put in the virtual, it still lacks the ‘human’ feel.
The sudden twist of online learning in the pandemic has been more of a helicopter ride. It has taken us from the conventional journey to a new unexplored one. It has made us question the very fundamentals of the “normal” we’d all come to unthinkingly accept. It has in the process made us realize the importance of human relations in its absence. The jibber-jabber with the classmates, the bond with the teachers, the walk in the corridors with friends, borrowing of pens and books, and the week before the exam in the library with the group, everything seems cherished, now that it stands on the edge of replacement. It has made us realize how badly we want to go back to it. These moments of disconnections from the relations in between have given us all the more reasons to reconnect with them.
The helicopter indeed will land back to that original place one day, but the ride in between will remain unforgettable.
There indeed are times when the universe runs on irony. Isn’t it ironic how we all cribbed while going to school and now we all are cribbing when not being able to go? Well, isn’t it ironic how we all spent 12 years of our lives to improve our handwriting, just to type on the laptop now?