Classes Up in the Air

口譯組碩一 蘇亦稜

The coronavirus pandemic has forced people to embrace new ways of doing old things, such as teaching and learning online, as opposed to being face-to-face in a classroom. There are three different methods that instructors have adopted for various courses: video conferencing, live broadcast, and online prerecorded lecturing. Although I haven’t experienced all of them firsthand, I surveyed my fellow classmates and came up with the following list of the pros and cons as well as likes and dislikes of the three methods, respectively, from the students’ perspective.

Common Ground

Video conferences, live broadcasts, and online prerecorded lectures all give students more freedom and convenience. We can choose where we want to take the class. All we need is a device and the internet. We can save time, money and lower our carbon footprint. For people who spend hours commuting to and from campus, or for those who are unable to be physically present in class, this can be a huge bonus. Compared to traditional lecturing with a projector or a blackboard, all three methods allow students’ eyesight to go horizontal, instead of vertical. It is much easier to copy down, compare, and find texts when they’re right next to each other. Students can instantaneously research things as they are mentioned.

Nonetheless, we need to be reminded that technical problems may arise throughout the process. Microphones might not work, the internet might be too slow, and platforms might shut down. We need to know how to solve these problems or know how to seek assistance; we need to know how to notify other participants that we’re having trouble, or know when to find alternative modes of communication. In short, we cannot put all of our faith in one invisible (internet) cable or in an incredibly smart device, however convenient it may be.

Video Conferencing

Even within this method, there are different levels of utilization. First is level: the instructor and all the students are online individually. In some classes, cameras remain closed; nobody sees anyone on screen. Let’s call this F1. In other classes, cameras are required to turn on; everybody sees everybody. This is F2. The second level is partial employment: some of the students are online, while others are all face-to-face in the same classroom. This variant exists because some students are required to stay home or abroad, and this serves as a means for them to participate. Cameras can also be off (S1) or on (S2).

In general, video conferencing is more intimate, beneficial and convenient. It feels as if we’re taking one-on-one courses. When we wear headsets, the sensation is even stronger—almost like the speaker is right in front of us. If the speaker mentions something that is not on the provided materials, they can post the content, link, or key words right in the chatroom, or the listeners can search for it, comment, or ask for confirmation right away. This is beneficial especially when we have no background knowledge of the things mentioned which are crucial to our understanding of the rest of the speech. These are the benefits of video conferencing.

For F1 and S1, many of my fellow classmates feel more at ease. We are no longer confined to our chairs, but can fidget, stretch or move about according to our needs. We can even be in the comforts of our cozy pajamas and fluffy slippers. Some say that they are more willing to ask questions because they do not have to face the pressure of raising hands or bearing the seemingly judging looks of other classmates; on the other hand, others say that they feel more distant from the other participants because they can’t see their reactions, and a lot of the nonverbal elements that aid communication are lost. Some students also comment that they find concentrating a lot easier when listening is the only source of input, while others claim to be more easily distracted by things going on around them. There are, sadly, additional shortcomings for S1 (and S2 as well). As most people are not used to this form of communication, the students’ needs are often neglected. Those in the classroom might forget to speak into the microphone or to speak up, making it hard for them to hear what is going on. When other participants enter into a discussion, talking back and forth across from the classroom for example, it is sometimes difficult for them to follow because they cannot see the speakers nor tell who’s doing the talking. Hardly anyone can adjust the direction of the camera in time for them, if at all.

For F2 and S2, cameras are on, so the facial expressions are up close and clear. This feels almost the same as face-to-face communication, but it can also be distracting. In a traditional classroom where students sit in rows, one doesn’t get to see that clearly what other people are doing unless they turn sideways or around. When using video conferencing software, all the faces of the participants are placed right next to each other across the screen. Without having to turn our heads, we can easily tell if a person is writing, typing, looking at the screen or scratching their head. Relatively speaking, some of my classmates feel that they are constantly under surveillance by all the eyes watching and that makes them uneasy.

Live Broadcast

This approach is really similar to a traditional classroom setting except that students can only express themselves through texts and not verbal response and that instructors cannot see students face-to-face. This means that instructors might have to allot time during the lecture to scroll through the chatroom to get feedback or answer questions. If they are unclear about a comment left early in the chat room, they might ask the student for confirmation, but the answer will only come at the bottom of the message string. In other words, interaction is not really simultaneous if many people are expressing their thoughts at the same time.

Online Pre-recorded Lecturing

This method allows for even more flexibility in time than the other two methods. Students can watch the videos whenever they like, as many times as they want, and pause whenever they need.

The downside to this method is that there is no timely interaction. Students cannot expect instant response or adjustment from the instructor when they are having trouble understanding or when the content is too easy. Discussions with fellow classmates are also difficult because we might not even know who they are, and we might not be on the same page regarding the content.

Conclusion

Even though there are still quite a lot of problems and disadvantages to these alternatives of course-taking, I am glad that the advancements in technology has offered so many possibilities for us. Were it not for the pandemic, we probably would never have the chance to explore and think outside the box. This experience serves as a reminder for all of us to keep up with the times and never stop learning. We never know when these skills might come in handy. I would also like to thank all our instructors who are doing everything they can to make things work!

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