Coronavirus has pressed pause on cramming
Sometimes, I wonder how Shasta is holding up.
Shasta is the name my dissection group chose for our cadaver, a name that’s supposed to symbolise that she is s teacher who has donated the physical aspect of her being for us to learn from. Sitting behind a computer, many miles away, doing a virtual dissection, I cast my mind
back to the times earlier in the year: standing around Shasta, discussing the same muscle on end, and making the occasional foray to my friends' dissection groups.
I find myself in a very different world now.
Across the globe, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have forced students out of the classroom and onto their laptops. Teachers and professors have had to become crafty with lessons given on Skype, Zoom, or through narrated PowerPoints. While the dominant narrative
around these arrangements frames them as a compromise, I argue that some aspects of them may be here to stay, and may even make for a more inclined group of learners.
Worldwide, the concern is whether the abrupt coronavirus educational arrangements are going to produce graduates of adequate quality, with some going as far as arguing that it may be especially devastating for those in their earlier university years, who are essentially missing out on both a personal and professional experience. Missing, in essence, the makings of them.
While it may be true in some ways, I do not think it is true in all. Take the average school or college day. You’re in class by 8am, you’re leaving school at around 4pm, and you probably aim to get something productive done that night. Based on this framework, you can operate from the assumption that the day is school driven. During these times, however, sleeping a few more hours doesn’t deprive you of missing a class if the lecture videos are posted and there are forums to ask questions at any time of day. The pressure to wake up and ‘start at the beginning’ doesn’t exist in quite the same form. The day is taking on
more of a self-determined hue, and isn’t that what we want of educated people? To be able to think, plan, and guide themselves?
From there, you throw yourself into your school or university’s online learning platform. The lectures are narrated, or via a calling app, and you feel it is the same, but in some ways it is not.
You find yourself reaching for textbooks you’ve never felt the need to pry open before, and
discover a new world between it’s pages. It feels different to any other time you’ve opened a
textbook, because you have more questions now.
Although the materials are there to engage with educators, we’re essentially asking students to
do more self teaching than was previously expected of them. This means they’re going to have to be a bit more passion or discipline driven, not simply picking up information because they canpassively sit and listen in a lecture hall. It’s taking on a more intentional hue, and again, what do we want from educated people if not the ability to think, analyse, and judge independently?
Students are being asked to do that, now more than ever.
With the normal college day being ripped from it’s hinges, the question of whether in-person lectures are valuable starts to become more necessary. What is the use if I can watch a recorded version? More so, what is the use if I have discovered a new way of cementing information? Not everybody learns by sitting in lectures, and for those students who’ve been forced to find new ways of consolidating information, the thought of attending a lecture
post-Coronavirus will be absurd to them.
Perhaps one can say, especially at the younger schooling ages, that Coronavirus reminds us of
the standard schooling approach, and how it might just be failing this generation of students. We
expect students to read, write, remember, repeat. What happened to the in-betweens, the part
where you ask a question, go on a tangent, stretch a concept, go on more tangents, weigh up a
possibility, debate it’s validity, or decide on the ethics of something?
I do hear myself sounding a bit utopian, but I truly believe that is what education is supposed to
be like, especially in the era of AI, where the only jobs that may remain are those that cannot be mechanised, and require critical thinking. Starting at the school-going ages, children should not be taught how to remember, but should be taught how to analyse, understand, and to an extent, manipulate. This is what educational interventions amidst the pandemic are forcing us to do.
Additionally, there is a flip side for students who’ve traditionally found themselves in classes of
larger sizes. An eighth grader writing in the New York Times stated that she enjoyed her learning day, going at her own pace, and not being distracted by teachers who can’t control her
disruptive classmates. She wrote about feeling as though there was more room for error: rewinding lesson recordings and being given more attention in question and answer forums, and not being plagued by the stresses of writing tests on concepts she had barely grasped due to the disruptive nature of her classroom.
My last contention is that students are going to become less test oriented, in the best of ways. Most universities are now opting for tests that are going to be open book, but that are going to be slightly more challenging, in the sense that your notes won’t give you the answer. You’re going to have to push yourself to understand, to google ad nauseum, to open textbooks and the sketchy drives that are circulated at the beginning of the year, and make sure that you grasp what you’re reading.
Questions, or their multiple choice answers, may also be randomised, so they’ll be less of a chance of you calling a friend to take the test ‘together’, which minimises the cheating chances in ways I don’t think are used for the conventional exam (taken at the same time and location)but which could be possibly integrated if we are still seating candidates shoulder to shoulder.
All of this calls for a ‘pause’ on cramming. It seems that learning a sentence you don’t quite make sense of isn’t going to help you anymore, which is how it should have always been. I think the possibility of having assesments of this manner in future shouldn’t be scrapped, especially if
we expect our graduates to be problem solvers, in the technological era, and thus, now more
Additionally, this pandemic is showing us that it is possible to use technological advances as a teaching aid. My question is this: if we have people who can afford to pay for university fees, and are currently doing so to access educational materials, can we not repurpose these materials for those who don’t have access to education post pandemic? If this pandemic has shown us that technological companies and universities alike can find ways to distribute laptops or printed assignments, can we not do that post pandemic for the people who would not recieve an education otherwise? I think a possible system that could work is a school adopting a specific underpriviledged school or area, and repurposing the narrated study material or recorded zoom lectures to help those areas. In future, this partner program could be permanent, complete with zoom lessons being recorded as in person classes continue, in the effort that
nobody be left behind.
But we can’t pretend that the coronavirus educational situation is the most ideal. Parents being
forced to juggle homeschooling, working from home, and mental health, are struggling- which
may make for worse outcomes in future. Parents no longer feel the need to be gaurdians of screentime, which may make for more social media addictions in the making, if already they’re being cemented as coronavirus coping mechanisms. And for all the online learning praises I’ve
managed to sing, for eschewing the possibility of independent graduates that thrive, I can not shy away from the fact that from the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep, I feel like I’m playing a catch-up game. Things suddenly take longer, Friday nights don’t feel the same, and it
feels easier to work yourself into oblivion because the weekend isn’t special anymore.
Added to this, we can’t ignore the learning experience across the divide. This means acknowledging the plight not just materially deprived learners, but learners who’ve been asked
to return to homes standing on shaky foundations. Homes in which it is mentally taxing to exist, and university offers a breather. Students are also struggling to find housing , and we also can’t ignore that in-person lectures are enjoyable, even though college students will say what
In the end, despite educational band-aids being put in place to maintain the integrity of the
academic system, I think that the world order post Coronavirus calls for a change in the educational approach: education needs to be inclusive, practical, and enjoyable. While these band-aids came with their evils, they do pry open the possibility of a better educational system.
This is a promise which we should not lose sight of, no matter how unpleasant the current time.