Academia is currently at a standstill on a global level. Educational institutes all over the world have been shut down to minimise the spread of the coronavirus; students from these institutes have been asked to stay indoors until further notice. Given that entire countries and cities are going under lockdown—and the situation at hand is expected to be the "new normal" for a while—it can be easily assumed that classes are not going to resume anytime soon.
Under such circumstances, the suspension of all sorts of academic activities will result in a huge loss for the students. Hence, instead of just suspending classes, and giving the students and faculty a break, educational institutes have limited the suspension of academic activities only on campus, and are now providing their students with online classes and lectures so that they can continue their studies while staying safe within the comforts of their home.
THE SITUATION IN BANGLADESH
Like in the United States and Europe, most private universities in Bangladesh are following a model for conducting online classes. Universities like Brac University, North South University, and Independent University, Bangladesh have already taken necessary measures for continuing with the remainder of the semester through online classes, tutorials, and other available resources.
"The CSE and MNS departments at Brac University are almost fully geared up for taking online classes," says Arif Shakil, lecturer at the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, Brac University. "Each faculty member is deciding on their own method and approach. Some of us are making videos of the lectures and posting them on YouTube, providing entire playlists related to the topic, while others are taking live classes."
Schools and colleges, on the other hand, are yet to take such steps. However, there are schools that are currently planning to implement online-based classes and are providing necessary training to their teaching staff for this purpose.
"Although the school is closed, teachers recently had a training session on Google Classroom so that we can carry on with our classes online," says Noel Alam, teacher at a prominent English medium school in Dhaka. "The plan is to provide students with lectures and homework through this platform. We are also in the plans of taking live lectures for some classes."
Most public universities have also suspended their academic activities, but with no further mention of online classes. As to why public universities have not taken such steps are yet to be known, but given how the circumstances are changing so rapidly, one can easily assume that they had valid reasons.
"I think for us, taking online classes is indeed a difficult task," says Rakin Kaisar*, a final-year student from the University of Dhaka. "A large number of our students come from outside of the capital. Since students have been asked to vacate the dorms immediately, these students will have to head back home. It's easy to assume that many of them can't attend the online classes mostly due to lack of resources from their end, for instance, a laptop or a personal computer or even a good internet connection."
The number of students enrolled at various public universities throughout the country is also something that could have triggered such a decision. "With the huge number of students we have at the university, it is almost impossible to bring them all under a single umbrella," adds Kaisar. "Besides, private universities are more or less habituated with the use of online platforms and resources. In comparison, we are not used to it. For us, it would have been something very difficult to do."
HOW ARE ONLINE CLASSES BEING TAKEN?
The way online classes are conducted depends on the course instructor or the university itself. Most of us are familiar with platforms like Google Classroom and Slack. Currently, these are the tools being used alongside Facebook and email to maintain communication between teachers and students.
As for conducting the actual class, it will greatly depend on the teachers and the resources available to them. Currently, teachers either provide students with a pre-recorded lecture, or schedule a live lecture as per everyone's convenience. Alongside lectures, students are also provided with additional study materials like YouTube videos or notes on the topic, to help them understand the lecture even better. Instructors allocate a specific period during the day or week, during which they are joined by their students in a live conference call.
The most common platforms that are being used to facilitate live online classes or lectures are Google Hangouts and Zoom. Both of these services provide users the option to communicate in groups and share a live video feed or mirror their computer screens or mobile devices. At the end of the day, the goal is to ensure that teachers are being able to communicate with their students, and this is something that is being steadily achieved.
WHAT ABOUT EXAMS AND ASSIGNMENTS?
Teachers consider assignments to be of utmost importance during this time. Some even substituting midterm exams for take-home assignments. Google Classroom or the institute's online learning management system is being used to receive these assignments. For handwritten work, one can simply scan the document with their phone and upload the file. Tests are being taken by providing students with the questions, either as a PDF file or via Google Forms. They have to answer these questions and turn them in within the deadline. However, they are still trying to work out ways as to how they can improve on the whole process.
WHAT ISSUES ARE STUDENTS AND TEACHERS FACING?
"One thing that is very evident from these classes is that the class durations are not strictly maintained," says Afia Fahmida Rahman, a senior at the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, Brac University. "Some last for an hour, while others for two. Apart from that, I actually think online classes make room for more effective classes as a lot more content can be covered."
And it is not just students that are facing problems, teachers are no exception to this either.
"Some students are not used to this new style of learning, while others find it difficult to show their particular problems since they have them written on their notebooks, and have to show it to me using their phone camera," says Raihanoor Reza Rayon, lecturer at the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, Brac University. "Students living in hostels may not have broadband internet or laptops, and some of them have already gone out of town to their families and are out of internet coverage. Overall, I would say that the infrastructure is the main issue here."
HOW TO ENHANCE THIS ONLINE LEARNING EXPERIENCE?
Given that the entire experience of online-based education is new, there is a lot of scope to make it worthwhile. Raihanoor says, "My advice to the students is to be honest and sincere. You will have to be pro-active and learn the materials that your teachers are providing and be open about any kind of difficulties that you might face. Respect the time of others and do not miss live discussion sessions. The online exams are likely to be open book exams (for obvious reasons) but not open discussion exams and therefore, the honesty and integrity has to be upheld from the students' side. I think for online education to become fruitful, there needs to be cooperation between students and their teachers. Take one step towards cooperation and we will try our best to take ten steps."
In conclusion, we can say that despite the problems and issues students and their teachers might face with this approach, it is still better than the complete shutdown of all sorts of academic activities. However, mutual cooperation between the teachers and the students must be there in order to make this system successful.
*Name has been changed as per the individual's request