Another case for online learning

As a student representative for my program, I am part of a team that is consistently trying to make the experience of university education better. I am constantly in awe of all the effort that is put in to make sure everyone’s’ concerns are heard.  

One of the issues we have had to grapple with on and off this year is the difficulty in transitioning between online to offline teaching. I noticed how online education is almost always looked down on. There is so much doubt about its quality and zoom (in our case its Teams!) fatigue is definitely real. However, I don’t think we are going to be able to handle it better by just wishing away online education. We badly need a new perspective.

An internet connection is all you need
I completely understand where this longing for “real life” comes from. After all, I am one of the students who have lost considerably on the university experience due to the pandemic. Yet I believe we are wasting an opportune tool through this approach. The pandemic is not over. Mutations arive and vaccines lose efficacy. The only difference is now we no longer want to pay with our experiences to stay alive. We know more about the virus and are willing to take calculated risks to strive to go back to some semblance of normal. But if we could realize the immanence of the virus then we could perhaps see hybrid learning for what it really is. An enabler.

Online learning enabled universities around the world to continue teaching and making sure education was a possibility during one of the biggest crises that humankind has seen in this century. It also has the power to continue enabling folk who struggle to access the university. Consider those at the margins of society who cannot afford to, financially or because of their situations, reach an offline class.

While I have lamented not being able to make it to Utrecht, I am also very aware of how online education made it so much easier for me to make it to my check-ups. I am sure many others struggle to travel physically or mentally to the university. Maybe, if we get hybrid learning right they can also be comfortable among us.  Many a time, I have come across webinar or conference participants, stuck in distant places, telling me how they suddenly have access to so many networks because online spaces are so much more accessible. Though in itself a privilege, an internet connection is all you need.  

There is no old normal
I am also not very sure of striving to go back to university life as it was before the pandemic. When I fell seriously ill a few years back, I struggled to recover and fought to go back to being “normal”. After a few months of pushing myself and many therapy sessions later, I learned that there was no such normal left for me to go back to. Some experiences are so life-altering that you can only move ahead. I could not become who I was before the illness but I could be someone who had grown and changed tremendously through the experience. There are strengths I have that I would not have realized without this illness experience.

I recognize this to be so even in the case of this pandemic. It has altered lives and there is no longer an old normal we can go back to. But we can take some tools we have chanced upon during the pandemic into our new normal.  And I sincerely hope that will let us hold space for those we could include in our classes with hybrid education.