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“Why care? They can’t see me anyway” was the first thought that ran through my mind as I considered cheating during online classes. When online learning commenced with the advent of this miserable pandemic, the task of staring at the screen for six hours a day didn’t seem appealing at all. And, online exams felt farcical as Instagram has clearly shown us a hundred ways to cheat.

While studying during a pandemic – when isolated – isn’t a very easy task, it is slowly becoming the norm. With the erasure of the conventional classroom settings along with the strict rules that govern our conduct becoming commonplace, even feigned concentration becomes difficult when a tiny, innocuous speck on the wall seems more interesting than an ongoing lesson. Also, lack of supervision frees us to indulge in misbehaviours like eating a packet of chips during a class or checking our phones regularly. Online classes, with their fluid disciplinarian structures, leave us ample room for some rebellion!

However, I digress. A few hours pass by, and I hear my lecturer ask for the hundredth time, “Did you understand?” I yawn and think to myself, let someone else answer why should I? After a month of online learning, I realised I hadn’t learnt anything at all. I did binge-watch all the seasons of F.R.I.E.N.D.S though. Something had to give. A sobering thought occurred to me; my exams were just two weeks away. There was no point in wasting time lamenting; I needed to pull up my socks and start studying and make the best of the time I had left. There was a moment of reckoning when I realised that this was a unique situation brought about by a unique challenge. And that got me thinking, maybe there’s a need to appraise the online learning phenomenon and not be so aggressively blasé or hateful about it.

The challenges

Personally, moving from a classroom setting to attending online classes from home has been challenging. While it does come with several benefits – relaxed setting, freedom to switch off the camera and have a quick bite, no early morning traffic or tiresome commuting – it doesn’t provide the somewhat stimulating environment of a traditional classroom. Also, distractions are galore like a noisy house, the lure of our beds or television, and much more.

Online exams bring with them another set of challenges. There’s always uncertainty regarding exams timetables. My assessments were supposed to be held in April but got postponed to June. It brings so much ambiguity and reduces the motivation to study. While it was already difficult for me to learn in a new environment, exams that were going to test the knowledge I hadn’t put an effort to gain in the first place added to the complexity.

Need to adapt

However, with difficult times, there comes the need to adapt. A strange anxiety-fuelled thought motivated me. Despite the distractions and challenges, I knew I had to work hard if I wanted to get my degree – a piece of paper that will have a massive impact on my life and future. My efforts, or the lack of them, is only going to affect me. But more than the degree, I realised how important it is to gain knowledge from these classes. After all, a degree might help me land a job, but it will be my knowledge that will help me sustain myself in that position. Isn’t it just easier, then, to listen to a few classes, understand the lessons, become well-learned than wasting our time getting distracted?

I started paying more attention in classes and incorporated a few changes that enabled me to become a better student of online learning. If you are a student and find it difficult to concentrate during classes, maybe my tips will help.

  • I started sitting at the table during classes instead of lounging on my sofa or settee. This helped me concentrate better while giving a classroom-like feel. I also began taking notes religiously, which enabled me to comprehend the lectures better and retain information faster. These habits helped me a lot during my exams.
  • Be curious! Ask questions – I kept telling myself this. We know when World War I took place and between which countries, but do we ask or remember why it took place? Asking ‘why’ empowers us to go beyond the known and learn more about the topic at hand. It also encourages us to do our own research, making us well-informed. By asking relevant questions, I could actively participate in class and make the lessons interesting for my classmates. It also made online classes much more interesting and enabled me to connect one subject to another. For example, knowing about The Great Depression in world history permitted me to understand why the literary works produced during the same time period were so pessimistic. Asking ‘why’ is a great way to improve our curiosity as well, and if our teachers can’t answer some questions, we can always turn to Google. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.
  • I kept my phone away during classes and used my laptop instead. The constant notifications on my phone no longer distracted me during lessons. The problem with mindlessly scrolling through Instagram reels starting with ‘just one’ didn’t exist anymore. With a little bit of willpower, it was all possible.

So let’s get rid of the attitude that forces us to petulantly ask, “Why care?” We should care because our teachers are working round the clock and adapting to new technologies to give us a good education, despite the pandemic. Our learning will only help us – we will be its true beneficiaries – so opposing its new form will only harm us. Sure, we can cheat during our classes, but we need to ask who are we deceiving, our teachers or ourselves? In the end, it’s the knowledge we possess that counts and will ultimately help us chart our career path.

It is challenging, but with some ingenuity, determination, and perseverance, we students can overcome the challenges of online learning. We should also be grateful for having such good technology at our disposal that has facilitated the continuation of our education. Also, how many learners could say that they studied through a marauding pandemic? We can truly turn ourselves into a resilient bunch!

– Sarah Monis, Intern, SoME.