Rewind on AY 2020/21 Semester 1

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When the announcement of online classes were made, you probably envisioned sleeping in until the very last minute; a respite from long MRT rides and a start to incurring glorious hours in between classes where you’re free to have leisure time outside the confines of campus. The comforts of home create the paradisiacal illusion of studying from your very own space. 

This fantasy however, weakens in Week 2 when a lost sense of time and sleep deprivation start soaking in. The sluggishness that comes from long hours of staring at a screen paired with assignment woes create a malicious study-at-home nightmare. The utopia also deteriorates when you start missing making snide comments with your friends in school and being aware of the extra effort that now comes with planning hangouts. The social isolation ensued from online classes also forms a demotivating bubble around you that’s tied to a lack of conduciveness—imagine a workspace filled with siblings’ screams and prone to parent interruptions. 

International students across the globe share a plight of non-discounted tuition fees, impractical time differences and the missing out on that overseas college experience that they should be having (read more about the woes faced by international students here). While freshmen have to see their first year of University through computer screens, seniors feel like their final year just got turned into a series of edX courses.  

Although NUS has done a marvelous job at facilitating the transition to online learning, some feel as though NUS’ execution could be improved. For instance, Biz has adopted hybrid learning—where one half of the class stays home and the other attends real life classes—in which all students have to log onto Zoom. This was seen by students as an unnecessary attempt at sticking to pre-COVID norms. Aside from that, majors that require hands-on practice like nursing, suffer a lot from the repercussions of online classes. According to a nursing student that wishes to stay anonymous, most of their experiences now rely on actual clinical attachments. On top of all of that, mandatory switching on of webcams have ignited debates with regards to privacy and respect. 

New Normals

Putting ourselves in the narrative of studying from home comes with its own set of distress such as family members who disrespect your boundaries and feeling like the four walls of your bedroom are caving in. Finding your own space and discovering what works best for you and your work ethic have been by far one of the biggest challenges of online learning. Believe me, I’ve tried all sorts of tactics to stay productive, from turning my phone on airplane mode to finding study-friendly cafes to fight the claustrophobic feeling of being boxed-in in your own room. I even tried setting weekly meetings with friends for tutorials to reconstruct that in-class feel. 

Other ways of adapting adhere to how the “walls” of Zoom classrooms create a whole new set of etiquette. The new norms of raising virtual hands, muting after speaking, using the text function instead of interrupting and so on have become modern social cues where our interactions are being monitored and facilitated by technology. 

However, with new normals come new opportunities; though we’re confined to the rectangles that are our laptop screens, the functions to facilitate learning are endless. For example, presentations and lectures can now be pre-recorded and participating becomes a whole lot less intimidating. Adding on, everyone also gets a glimpse of each other in their natural habitat—a professor from FASS has even made himself known for introducing his pet parrot in every tutorial. 

A Race Against Ourselves 

Our time management skills are being put to the ultimate test. Sometimes the pressures of school just don’t translate as well from the mere texts you find in an email. There have been many times where I had to remind myself that I was indeed in the middle of a semester and that my overflowing to-do list was very much real with even realer deadlines attached to them. The notion of pre-recorded lectures have also challenged my chronic procrastination. 

Furthermore, being online can not only make time seem like an illusion but also blur boundaries. For example, meetings with group mates during this online semester have had the tendency to overrun way longer than their real life renditions—to the point where I personally have become accustomed to having Zoom meetings at 3am. 

Final Thoughts 

In light of the improvements that Singapore has incurred in terms of COVID-19, whether online classes are still going to be our reality remains unknown. Our acceptance of the uncertain future also shows how flexible we can all be in dire situations. While our parents can annoyingly brag about how far they travelled for school, we can now definitely say that trying to survive a global pandemic while chasing that academic bread is a lot more dramatic.