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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Lee

A commentary on online teaching

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

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If your lessons take place on a digital grid of weary faces, look no further - this article is for you! Online teaching has become a constant in our current student lives. Aside from having its own slew of problems to get used to (I’m looking at you, network problems & zoom fatigue), it also has lasting impacts on our learning, studying and lifestyle habits that we might not yet realise.

The benefits of Zoom University

Missed a class? Not to worry – lectures are (mostly) recorded, with convenient transcripts at the side in case we ever feel like finishing a 90 minute lecture in a third of the time. Online lessons have gotten us fairly accustomed to having total control over our schedules. A morning lecture could be repurposed into a last-minute cram session with no fear of missing out. It is, after all, online and ready at any time.

Even if you had to be in a lecture, you have the option to do literally anything else with your webcam off (provided it's allowed, of course). Aside from having the freedom to watch Squid Game while attending the lecture, you can also read, game, work out, surf the web etc. - all of which you probably wouldn’t be able to do in a physical lecture! What’s to say that you won’t also improve at multitasking while you engage in multiple activities at once? Ah, the wondrous benefits of pursuing a pseudo-online degree.

Source: Dribbble

…and everything else.

It’s not all good, though. Online lessons make us feel like we’re in a kind of limbo between being university students and not being university students. On a daily basis, this same freedom of planning also dampens my motivation as a university student because I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. When I’m at home having lessons, I feel this urge to be in school, and to be a part of something on campus. When I’m on campus, I feel like a lonesome wanderer in an alien locale. Thinking about a full return to on-campus lessons in the future evokes uncertainty and trepidation, precisely because this limbo is now reality for me and many others.

Most people we know from our classes are people we see online and online only, so there isn’t the kind of social interaction that gives us that communal classroom feeling. And that feeling - basking in the presence of like-minded friends and peers in this phase of our education - is one of the hallmarks of university life. To have it missing just… doesn’t feel great, to say the least.

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That being said, while interaction is necessary and encouraged during tutorials, often times it occurs simply for the sake of finishing a tutorial assignment, or getting ready for a sharing session in the main room. Organic, meaningful social interaction hardly occurs, and with great effort if at all. That’s because most of us have probably resigned ourselves to the fact that it’s not very effective to make friends in an online context, which is yet another unfortunate phenomenon. Any further interaction beyond what is necessary hardly ever occurs. Cue the familiar scene of a dead silent breakout room after everyone is done discussing…

Source: Matador SGHS

The freedom, in an online lesson, to let my mind drift away and indulge in something else starts to feel out of place after a while. Who doesn’t want to concentrate on their lessons and actually learn something from them? Yet it’s difficult (and I’m sure I’m not alone on this one) to focus for hours staring at a screen. For computer note-takers like myself, it’s downright annoying to have to flit between tabs to access different lesson materials while keeping the lecture tab in view.

Low-attention-span gang, rise up, because the supposed comfort of home is actually our greatest enemy. Every so often my dogs walk into my room to shoot their puppy eyes at me, and I can’t help but to indulge… aaand five minutes have passed. Then I’m trying to pay attention again, and I succeed for a while until my phone vibrates. I absolutely have to pick it up because my concentration was already falling off (honestly, sometimes I check it even if it doesn’t vibrate) and the cycle repeats itself.

Source: Rev

Keeping yourself accountable

Then again, the grind doesn’t stop, and we eventually have to find ways to challenge these habits and get ourselves ready and in top form for future semesters. Here’s a few things I’ve been doing to cope with online lessons and its resulting distractions. It isn’t that difficult, as long as there is effort and motivation involved.

#1 Finding a haunt

If you’re like me, home is distracting and campus (although great to study in) feels foreign. I dawdled for a semester before deciding to find somewhere aside from these two locations to just set up camp and work the day away. Libraries are always a good option, and there should be several nearby to suit your needs (I personally love Woodlands Regional Library). If you need some ideas, the CNM Types’ article on where to study outside of NUS is a great place to start!

#2 Smart scheduling

Write down your tasks and prioritise them, but not in order of what you like. Rather, prioritise your work according to deadlines. It will also do you good to make a note of what you want to accomplish by the end of the day, and try to stick to it as well as you can. Of course, daily to-do lists might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they’re a great starting point and likely the best option if you are easily distracted. For the more visual-oriented, some of Daniel Tamago’s (our fellow NUS Businesses alumnus!) YouTube videos are a great resource for learning to organise your work!

#3 Get help from friends

If you feel like you can’t keep yourself accountable, rope in a friend or two! Chances are, your friends want to succeed just as much as you do, and wouldn’t mind a partner in crisis. They don’t even have to be friends in the same class, major or school – anyone you know can potentially be your saviour study buddy! Come up with a study plan using the tips above, help each other stick to it, and let repetition become habit.

That’s all I have to share, and hopefully this has been relatable and helpful for you! Keep it up, and all the best for the rest of the semester!

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