“Working from home?”
One of the defining conversation-starters of 2020, this reflects the work from home (WFH) culture that has become the new normal practised among workplaces and corporations. But what about “school from home”?
My SFH experience
As a student in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in NUS, I experienced a fully online semester that has surfaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the ongoing climate of uncertainty, NUS has decided that the current semester will be conducted either fully or partially online, depending on each faculty and the number of students enrolled in its respective modules.
For most of us, what’s there not to like about online lessons? After having a hearty breakfast in bed, armed with a laptop or mobile device, you’re all set for lessons that day. Best of all, waking up hours before the lesson starts to prepare and travel to school has become a thing of the past, especially if you didn’t stay on campus. Even if you’re slightly dreary or disorganized in the morning, you no longer have to frantically declutter the stuff lying around your study Marie Kondo-style. Zoom backgrounds have you covered — I still remember the classmate with the same Golden Gate Bridge backdrop every week. Many students have also taken towards coordinating Zoom backgrounds to elevate their online presentations, much like how groups coordinated outfits back in the days of physical presentations.
Online office hours were also one of the perks my friends and I were extremely grateful for. Consultation with our professors or teaching assistants has never been more efficient, what with the flexibility of arranging slots on the go, from the convenience of our respective homes. Other than the occasional squiggly handwriting to decipher on both ends while using Zoom’s annotation tool to explain equations and symbols, it has been a breeze.
Personally, the breakout meeting room function in Zoom used during some of my online seminars left a very good impression on me. Fuss-free, no more moving around in class, no musical chairs whatsoever. Group discussions were pretty well ironed out by the instructor who allocated us each a small sub-group. This way, no one gets left out during the seminar. I was also pleasantly surprised by the ease of using Padlet, a bulletin board style website, for one of my modules this online semester. With each group contributing virtual post-its, this stands as a creative and novel way to complement the ongoing Zoom discussion. Do check it out here!
Zoom moments we’ve all experienced
Speaking of class participation, we’ve all had that one friend who regularly forgets to unmute his or her microphone while trying to say something over Zoom. This happens almost as frequently as one of our greatest Zoom pet peeves — when a random student with grating background noise doesn’t put his or her speakers on mute.
Furthermore, it can be really daunting when you have to grapple with listening to the lecture content while trying to make sense of what’s actually going on in Zoom’s chat window at the side. This is especially so in modules where students are encouraged to ardently debate over topics via that chat box. Like it or not, students’ 21st century multitasking skills are being put to use. Lecturers themselves find their digital skills being put to test as well, having to be adept at delivering the same content albeit via a different mode of instruction.
Troubleshooting the pain points
The contentious issue of Zoom-proctored online examinations has surfaced among students’ numerous list of frustrations during the online-based semester. In particular, a handful believe that this paves the way for cheating and other sorts of unlawful practice when it comes to examinations. Admittedly, it is impossible to fully replicate the foolproof physical examination setting we once had in the all too familiar Multi-Purpose Sports Halls (MPSHs). But let’s face it, given the restrictions imposed as part of the school’s caution, online invigilation still tries its best by setting strict protocols to adhere to, and rules to abide by. Ultimately, I believe this comes down to the issue of trust, and the onus is on students to answer to their own integrity and complete the paper to the best of their abilities, respecting all examination rules.
Apart from that, irksome moments like having your WiFi connection disrupted, or your desktop crashing halfway are valid causes for concern, especially if they crop up during the middle of an examination over Zoom.
Fortunately, student representatives from NUSSU have reached out and collected online form submissions regarding examination disruption issues faced during the semester, ranging from technical to non-technical matters. Special considerations were then granted to affected students on a case-by-case basis, and moderation of marks for selected modules has taken place in light of the feedback gathered.
Tired of hearing the same chime that goes “this meeting is being recorded…” before the start of each Zoom lesson?
Much as I’m Zoom fatigued like everyone else from getting eye-strains or headaches from staring at the screen for three hours straight, trying not to develop the same kind of cabin fever felt by the homebound protagonist in Ottessa Moshfegh’s “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”, I view this experience as something oddly unique which previous batches did not get to encounter. All in all, I would say that this SFH experience has made me adopt a broader perspective towards learning, especially in terms of appreciating the beauty and flexibility in which meaningful discourse is exchanged despite the nature of the instructional medium. Tech-savvy or not, this climate of schooling from home has definitely prompted more of us to link arms with technology. After all, when life throws you lemons, make lemonade.