Friday, Mar 31, 2023

In Pandemic Times, How Is College Life Different From Schools?

In Pandemic Times, How Is College Life Different From Schools?

‘From a very young age, we were asked to study hard and get into a good college. College days will be fun, they said. Who would have predicted a monstrosity of a pandemic to take over the world and particularly, an experience of a lifetime?’

Many colleges across the country have opened and are following the hybrid format, but DU colleges are yet to open. File Photo

Another morning approaches. Drag yourself out of bed, switch on your computer, log into class (log out mentally) and plop yourself back into bed because who cares? It is online. Welcome to the daily routine of almost every student belonging to the University of Delhi.

Riya Mariam Vargese, a first-year Economics student of Daulat Ram College says, “From a very young age, we were asked to study hard and get into a good college. College days will be fun, they said. Who would have predicted a monstrosity of a pandemic to take over the world and particularly, an experience of a lifetime? Belonging to the famous Delhi University north campus, known for its brilliant season of fests, countless competitions and the most enjoyable student life, at most we have gotten an attempt at online freshers with bad internet.”

‘Good morning, am I audible?’ is the new way of greeting. “Though both teachers and seniors have tried their very best to make sessions engaging and welcoming, one can’t help wishing for an experience we have only heard about, growing up,” adds Vargese.

Why does college experience become so important? Though it seems absurd to even pose such a question, there is a need to understand the difference between school life and college life. Vargese feels that school follows uniformity that you as children are expected to follow. You study the same subjects and wear the same dress. It is the rigidity of the system that truly demarcates the stark difference between school and college. That is not to say rules do not exist in college. It is the autonomy that surprises you. You still have your parents and professors, but the initiative to learn and explore lies with you.

Vargese adds, “The thrill of bunking classes, going out with friends, finding reasons to wear a saree and making bigger decisions like internships, working in your societies and organising various fests, are all unique to the famed college experience. When my parents constantly tell me how college days were their best days or when my seniors keep sharing pictures of them posing next to the famous aesthetic red brick wall of Delhi University colleges, safe to say I’m beyond disappointed.”

Aadrika Sominder, a third-year student from Lady Shriram College for Women attended college for less than a year. With the colleges closing due to Covid-19 scare, she feels that her youth was stolen from her.  Sominder says, “In my first year of college, our annual fest ‘Tarang’ was cancelled in an attempt to make a stand for all the people displaced by the CAA-NRC laws. Ideally, our college was supposed to start reopening for lab and practical using a hybrid format from the 15th of September, but with the cases rising around the country it has to be seen whether this will actually be implemented or not.”

It seems to be a long wait for the Delhi University students. Sominder adds, “I was one of those kids who thrived in college and the sudden shut down threw a lot of things in my life askew. I had to move to the middle of nowhere, adapt to the worst type of learning method since everything was online and be away from all my friends for a very long time. If my college does reopen soon, I think my friends and I will be the first ones to go. I cannot wait to learn and meet my professors in person.”

The scene is a little different in some of the colleges in Bengaluru. The stunning recoup of the chalk after a long time is a matter of enthusiasm for every student in MVJ College of Engineering, Bengaluru. Amrutha V Murthy, a Second-year student of Electronics and Communication department at MVJ college says, “The approach for a halt to the online classes and proceeding with the regular offline classes provided a better frame for a student’s learning. The sudden vault from our college environment to this online mode, meant a long time for students to get adjusted to the system.  This approach had carried every student to a safe zone, but on the other hand it wasn’t worth comparing it to all the aspects of a traditional education system.”

Murthy exclaims, “Now we are unplugged from everything that went online and are grabbing every possible opportunity. We are happy to free ourselves from certain technical glitches, and all other emotional clinches. We are back to the group assignments in the classroom environment, physically meeting everyone, talking face to face, and clearing all our doubts instantly.”

However, there is a mixed feeling of joy, zeal, and confusion amidst the pandemic for the students of MVJ College, Bengaluru. Murthy says, “It’s bizarre to see the disinfection barriers, thermal scanners, and people with masks all around.  On the whole this scenario seems palpable. Now we have our teachers right in front of us to guide and correct us in all our moves. We work on our projects together, communicate and obtain the relevant clarity instantly. Moreover, it’s now a quick fix for all students who had internet issues and also to those who lacked technical assistance.”

It’s a joyous moment for all the students to have their traditional participation and interaction with their teachers and peers.  Some of the students feel like as if they are hallucinating when they check their presence, back in our college. Murthy says, “Though every little thing can be compassed online, it cannot replicate all the aspects of offline classes. The students who were waiting for their active participation in seminars, cultural fests and all other Techfest were gridlocked.”

Students feel that a classroom is never a distraction but the online classes drive them to all other online platforms paying less attention in class. They are now happy to be back to the manual records and written notes which seems more efficient. Students feel that they work a little harder when the classes are conducted offline. Students feel that they have indeed missed this competitive environment of the classes which triggered every individual to give his best. Colleges being every youth’s favourite place, it enhances positivity and favours a better learning process. The students are happy to see the lagging software being replaced by our phenomenal teachers.

Murthy adds, “Now we are mentally free to step out and accompany our fellow mates which is a good sign. We are prepared for all the upcoming actions in a realistic mode. I personally believe that the students were totally sickened with no extracurricular activities, but now the bee is back home in its hive.

Colleges feel that opening up is both an opportunity and a challenge. Education works best in face-to-face interactions, dialogue, debate, and discussion. Abhay Chebbi, Pro-Chancellor, Alliance University, Bengaluru says, “The experience of the last eighteen months requires us to innovate while altering our behaviour to contain the pandemic. We have opened our university. Students have the option to be on campus or learn remotely. Most have chosen to be on campus. From now on, we plan to have a hybrid model of learning. Linear content will be available to learners anytime, anywhere through a Learning Management System. Experiential learning will happen through live, learner-led discussions in the classroom.

Talking about how the colleges are planning to follow the safety protocols and conducting the hybrid classes, Chebbi says, “We encourage everyone to follow appropriate behaviour always – hygiene, masks, and distancing. We have reconfigured discussion rooms to facilitate smaller learner groups. The pandemic has taught us to reimagine the way we live and work. We have embraced the change enthusiastically. The University has established Alliance Covid-19 Care Team (ACT) which has taken complete responsibility to handle situations arising on account of the pandemic if any, within the university.”

At Alliance University a dedicated page giving information on developments and notifications about Covid-19 is created - Covid-19 Updates | Alliance University. The University recently conducted a vaccination drive for its members (faculty and staff) in collaboration with a leading private hospital. Chebbi adds,  “We also intend to organize such drives in the future as well, keeping in mind the well-being of faculty, staff and students. Within the university premises, a bio bubble has been created and all measures are in place to ensure no breach happens. The University has ensured the campus is well kept, sanitized regularly and separate quarantine facilities are in order, should there be a need. Additionally, an ambulance is kept handy, should there be any medical emergencies along with ACT identifying hospitals nearby with Covid Care Facilities as a measure of preparedness.”

At RICS School of Built Environment, Amity University, Noida, the final year students are back to the campus and the classes are being conducted in hybrid mode. Ashwani Awasthi, Managing Director- RICS School of Built Environment, Amity University mentioned that the campus hybrid mode is going to start from September 15. He says, “Faculties have already started conducting their online/hybrid classes from their respective classrooms. The classroom infrastructure has been upgraded to support the hybrid model of teaching. Faculties have also adapted to the new teaching methods to suit the hybrid mode of teaching so that they can interact effectively with both face to face and remote students. Pre-Placement activities, students’ events, computer lab upgrades, and many similar tasks are scheduled to support the face-to-face student experience at the campus. On-campus events that were postponed earlier are now being rescheduled in sync with the student body to host events at the campus. We can witness the spark in the faculty members’ eyes when they see their students back to the campus.”

While many universities went back to the offline and hybrid teaching modes by calling their students back on campus and creating a safety zone/bubble by restricting mobility of students and faculty members, they had to return to online classes with the second wave and subsequent lockdowns from March 2021 onwards. Vidya Yeravdekar, Chair-FICCI HE Committee & Pro Chancellor, Symbiosis International University explains that this yo-yoing between online and hybrid modes of learning indicates the need for both students and faculty to return to the physical face to face learning space. Interaction in the physical space is optimal for learning with deep conversations among students and faculty members. She says, “The hybrid mode was necessitated as a result of travel restrictions for international students as well as interstate travel, the fear quotient of family members, limited access and staggered vaccination process. In the last month or so, a large number of schools and colleges across the country have initiated the process of physically returning to the physical classroom in the school/college as the learning environment in the online mode has led to limited interaction, leading to a less than optimal socialisation process.”

The assessment and evaluation methods which encourage collaborative and experiential learning, has been a challenge in the online space.  Yeravdekar explains, “The challenges while on one hand lie with regard to accessibility to technology, devices and services, on the other hand it is linked to student comfort in sharing their ideas and opinions in class. This is more so for students who have not been on campus at all. The lack of sense of comfort with faculty members and the peer groups leads to limited sharing of ideas and interaction. The family members are also all confined and working/learning from home, which may lead to space constraint and a possible sense of judgement by family members of the ideas and opinions being shared in class by the students.