Atypical incident over the lockdown made Malaysians shell shocked when Veveonah Mosibin, an 18-year-old student from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) climbed up a hill and later on made a bamboo hut for herself to get better internet access for her studies. Her act became an internet discussion in Malaysia.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, education is by far one of the worst-hit sectors and remote learning was introduced to ensure the learning process remains uninterrupted. This trend further accelerated the digitalization of education. However, there were also negative responses from the public. Many students were not convinced with the idea of imposing complete remote learning without physical presence. Some students did experience mental stress during the lockdown due to a lack of psychological support. And in the case of Veveonah, access to internet connectivity in which just revealed the truth that the underprivileged community does not have access to basic amenities such as the internet.
Is remote learning really our saving grace?
What is remote learning?
Remote learning does differ from e-learning as the learning approaches are different. For remote learning, the virtual classroom is set up via video conferencing tools and students can learn and interact with their lecturers face-to-face remotely. As compared to e-learning, it is more on preparing and pre-recording online lectures with uploaded learning materials. E-learning allows self-paced learning mode as students can access online lectures anytime and anywhere. The key difference here is that remote learning facilitates learning synchronously, requiring all students and lecturers to attend the virtual classroom at the same time. For some courses, attendance is mandatory; therefore, remote learning with the virtual classroom is preferred to track student progress.
What can students gain from remote learning?
Remote learning creates a virtual platform as all students from various locations can access to online lectures and learn synchronously and timely. This requires discipline and proper time management as students are required to attend a virtual classroom on time. From my experience, some students who are less vocal in physical classroom can be more responsive with chat function. During presentations, students can share screens to show their presentation slides within a few seconds. Some of them can be less shy as there are no physical encounters in the virtual classroom.
This form of learning would revolutionise the way we learn and students from different socio-cultural backgrounds could have better access to quality education in the future. Imagining a student like me can able to learn from Tsinghua professors by just enrolling classes in my home country, Malaysia. As such, a diverse pool of students from different regions can collaborate on group projects without attending classes physically.
Furthermore, remote learning can save up big costs compared to attending classes physically. It will surely diminish transportation and utility costs as well as daily time spent. For example, students do not have to spend too much time on daily commuters or get stuck in traffic congestion. It can also be a win-win situation for students who are working or with families as they can arrange their time in a more flexible way. It encourages long-life learning for communities in the long run.
What are the challenges?
One of the challenges of remote learning is to engage students better in the virtual classroom. Many students were not able to keep their concentration when they are learning remotely. Some students can stay active on social media during the lesson or even stay away from the laptop screen. Meanwhile there are students who choose to remain silent and not to unmute their audio during the discussion and they will eventually lose their passion after a certain period.
Another challenge is the evaluation of students’ performance. It is challenging to have online assessments such as e-test to evaluate students fairly. During the e-test session, students might encounter technical problems such as poor internet connection and this substantially diverts student concentration. Cheating can also be another problem as students might search answers online or communicate with others for information. Another thing is that, some physical activities such as research work at laboratory and experiments could be a challenge to execute by entirely relying on remote learning.
There is also an equity issue between privileged and underprivileged groups. Some students from less fortunate families might not be able to afford high-performing laptops that provide a better learning experience. The internet connection in some areas is unstable due to inadequate telecommunication facilities and a lack of reliable broadband connection. As mentioned earlier, Veveonah Mosibin had no choice but to climb up a hill just for a better internet connection. Her case is just the tip of an iceberg as many students are suffering from the same fate. Therefore, it is crucial to consider remote learning without tackling such issues.
What have we learned?
The pandemic took the whole world by storm as most countries were susceptible to the public health crisis. Remote learning became the new medium for learning with surfacing challenges as well.
From our experience, firstly, the pace of incorporating online learning into education to enhance the teaching activities digitally and assessment was slow before the pandemic. Second, many countries require much more upgrading work for infrastructure and internet connectivity as many students encountered difficulties when they learn remotely. Third, the emergence of remote learning has opened up various possibilities for changing the ways we learn and access education in the future.
With this, it is obvious that remote learning is still not ready to replace conventional modes of learning. In this circumstance, perhaps a mix or blended mode is needed to perform its synergy. After this pandemic, there is undoubtedly more work needed to be done to prepare ourselves for a better normal.