As recently the Covid-19 pandemic is happening all over the world, it is also occurring in Sweden. This country handles the pandemic differently, as we don’t apply strict lockdown as other countries do. However, one of the big changes in handling the pandemic is moving the highschool and university studies to distance learning or become online. In this article, I would discuss how these online lectures in a university are perceived by the students.
Waiting for the Zoom link
Where the students check the Zoom link in Canvas
(Credit: personal documentation)
Most universities use Zoom as their online lectures platform. We, the students, don’t know how the course staff manages the Zoom link. But in my course, most of the time we have to wait until one day before the lecture, or even the same day when the lecture will be conducted. This has become a hassle for some of us, as we always have to check Canvas (student portal where we can access our courses and assignments) every morning. However, we understand how this whole distance learning may be new not only for us but also for the teachers and staff.
However, the situation when waiting for a Zoom link might be well perceived by the students. Yet, in the normal situation, the students always get the schedule of the class with the booked classrooms – at least on the first day of the course. But it is true that sometimes there are changes in the classroom or time of the lecture. So, waiting for the Zoom link might take the same effort as checking if there are any changes in the normal situation.
However, other courses or even other universities might have different ways of managing the Zoom link. I heard from my friend that her teachers handle distance learning in a whole different way. The teachers already recorded their lectures beforehand and shared the YouTube link in the Canvas a few days before the actual lecture day. Then once a week, the teachers conducted a question and answer session to interact with the students and make sure they understand the lectures.
Besides, there is a bonus in using Zoom as the platform for distance learning. Now the students have access to use Zoom with our student accounts. The university provided this access, so we can use Zoom freely without having to worry about the 40 minutes limitation for the free account. I would like to give a shout-out to the universities for taking action quickly and always giving the best support for their students in any conditions.
Discussion in Group and Presentation
Instructions on how to use the feature of Breakout Rooms
As the lectures are conducted through Zoom, it doesn’t mean the structure of the lectures are different or become boring. It is still the same as how normal class would be conducted, with a lot of discussion and presentations in groups. The difference is how the discussions and presentations are conducted.
For the discussion in a group, the teachers will use the feature of breakout rooms to divide the students into different sub-rooms. At first, it was a little awkward and strange to discuss in a group through Zoom. But by time, we get used to it and find this feature of breakout rooms useful.
Then for the presentation, someone in the group has to share his or her screen and has opened the presentation file beforehand. From my experience, my group has a preparation session before our presentation day. Someone with the strongest internet signal was chosen as an “administrator”, to share her screen. We also do a rehearsal of our presentation, so the administrator knows when to click and move to the next slide.
Illustration of using Zoom
This whole distance learning through Zoom idea needs the internet signal and knowledge about technology as a support. As a result, there are some technical difficulties happening during the online lectures amidst the pandemic. The first one is obviously the strength of internet signals or wi-fi. It often happens when someone talks then suddenly the sound becomes garbled or the video becomes ‘freeze’.
Another technical difficulty is the knowledge of technology. Everyone has different knowledge and skills in using technology, including Zoom. At the beginning of distance learning, it was common when someone asked how to do something. It also happens sometimes even after a few weeks having class through the Zoom. For instance, there is one teacher in my class that often forgets to unmute herself before talking to the class. Until the students or other teacher has to tell her that we can’t hear her, then she begins trying to remember how to unmute herself.
Besides, there are also certain rules agreed together in order to make the online lectures smooth. First of all, everyone should mute their audio when someone talks. Second, when someone wants to respond or ask questions, you have to raise your hand (if you turn on your video) or use the ‘raise hand’ feature in Zoom. Third, it is not compulsory to turn on your video during the class. The teachers and staff usually do it anyways, while the students usually do it while they want to ask questions or do the presentations. However, one of my teachers has a unique way of using the video feature. In every beginning of the class, he will say ‘hi’ to every single student, other teachers, and staff present in the class. By doing so, everyone tends to turn on the video during the “saying hi” session.
Benefits and Challenges
Distance learning while laying on the bed
Besides the technical aspect of using Zoom, the distance learning method also has benefits and challenges. The benefits are lowered transportation and lunch costs. As the students stay at home during distance learning, we don’t need to pay for the bus ticket to go to university – as we usually do. Besides, we are also able to have more time in preparing lunch. We don’t have to pack our lunch on the night before, nor pay for having lunch in the restaurant. In other words, we can take more time to enjoy our lunch without having to worry about how much time we should spare to walk to the class. Furthermore, some students feel they have more time and flexibility in arranging their own schedules during distance learning.
On the other hand, studying at home also leads to some challenges. The first challenge is to wake up for the morning lecture. Many students thought we don’t need to wake up as early as usual when we need to catch the bus or ride the bike to university. As a result, sometimes we tend to wake up close to the time when the class will begin – or even worse, waking up late. This sleeping issue happened not only at the beginning of class. As we don’t have to turn on our video in Zoom, there are a lot of distractions while listening and trying to focus on the lecture. Some students were mostly laying on the bed and had a big possibility to end up sleeping. Others were busy doing something else while getting bored with the lecture, such as folding their clothes after laundry, eating some snacks, and surfing the internet.
All in all,
This distance learning method has given us a new experience and shown us how technology can help us in doing the class as normally as possible. Checking the classroom schedule becomes waiting for the Zoom link. Discussion and presentations in the group are still happening as to how the Swedish universities usually do in the classes. And with the technical difficulties, every student, teacher, and staff are helping each other to make the class conducted as smoothly as possible. Along with the benefits and challenges, distance learning would become successful by the quick action from universities, together with the willingness to be adaptive from students, teachers, and staff.
Master’s in Environmental Communication and Management
Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet (SLU) Uppsala
Editor: Badai Kesuma