Dave Jha


Impressions of Remote Learning as an undergrad CS student

Marguerite Roth
Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA

[ The original article was written on Medium, and can be found here ]

Hi, my name is Dave and I am a Computer Science and Business student at Lehigh University.

This past week has been one of the strangest weeks of my life, and I wanted to document a student’s reaction to the recent global challenge — the containment of COVID-19. As of March 20, 2020, the United States has fallen behind other major countries in containing the virus. There are currently about 15,219 confirmed cases and 201 deaths, and just over 100,000 tests done.

As Computer Science students, we imagine a world where we bring industries into the digital era. To me, the education industry is one particular industry that seems to be behind the 8-ball in the shift to the technological era. Although many tools have been brought online, the fundamental concepts of teaching and learning are rooted in the traditional methods established centuries before us. Technology was being used to ease the logistics of communication rather than radicalize the very methods that information was communicated. For instance, at the university and throughout high school, we attain our grades in assignments, exams through an online system. We used online submission techniques to hand in homework and essays. When a professor needed to communicate that he or she was running late to class, a message would be posted online and distributed through notification channels.

I felt like for the first time, due to the ongoing global pandemic, this could be the first time technology could be utilized to fundamentally change the distribution of learning that the professors would employ. Has it? Not really.

I think there are a few factors that go into this.

First, professors were forced to adapt in a very short amount of time. At Lehigh, the announcement came 3–4 business days before the anticipated start of classes again during spring break that students were to move to remote learning for two weeks. A day later, the university made the move permanent for the rest of the semester. Professors then had to move their entire curriculum to an online lecture format, including upcoming exams, updates to syllabi, etc. Along with this change, many professors had to get a quick sense of the edge cases for their lectures — one particular concern of mine was having lectures at 6:20 am due to timezones. Other students in eastern Asia and Europe face the same issue on a grander scale. On top of everything, suddenly, a reliable, high-speed internet connection and a webcam were required of all students.

Second, in a time of crisis and period of anxiety, it seems that people revert to what they are comfortable with doing. In the case of education, it is no different. Most professors did not acknowledge that a change in the world is occurring and proceeded to teach the material that is natural to them, in a way that is familiar to them. Some surveys of remote learning were conducted and some adjustments were made, but by in large the biggest issue still was prevalent on Zoom: retaining attention during the lecture. Although this is largely a student’s responsibility, a professor can make their delivery engaging and interesting — which is perhaps the most surprising aspect of college. Professors don’t feel that they have to sell their information to the students and convince them that they should place importance on what they’re delivering. Especially online.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, I’m excited to see the developments in education online and how they leave a lasting impact on the world. Maybe we’ll see a change in the education system that has been around since the early 20th century.

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