Students Reflect on the Shift to Online Learning
“On a global level, online learning proved to the world that learning is an ongoing process that would not be halted even by the spread of a global pandemic.” - Malak Khattab
As an immediate result of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the AUC School of Business made the move of shifting all undergraduate and graduate classes online in mid-March. While the concept of virtual learning had been in the plan long before the pandemic, the transition was sudden to both faculty and students.
After a semester of online learning, we spoke to students of different class standings and concentrations to hear what they thought worked and what didn’t, how the transition went, what they miss most about being on-campus, and what advice they would give to other students struggling to stay engaged.
Hana Ahmad ElSherif, International Business Sophomore
The primary benefit of online learning for me was truly the ability to both keep myself and my family safe while managing to learn and retain information every day. Another benefit was, of course, that it allowed for great convenience.
Yet, I have to say, the challenges were greater than the benefits. Firstly, there was the intense feeling of greatly missing the campus as well as my friends, which negatively impacted my mental wellbeing. Moreover, the lack of face-to-face communication with my professors and teaching assistants was a difficult barrier to overcome, as it took away the ease of taking my concerns to them.
However, there are a few techniques that did work. I believe the most impactful efforts made by my professors included WhatsApp groups and one-on-one meetings. I particularly admired those professors who would constantly stay in touch and check on our wellbeing without overloading us with academic pressure.
Overall, the Spring 2020 semester was a rough one for me. I understand that it was that way to ensure my and others’ safety, but that doesn’t prevent the fact that the adjustment was quite hard to make, especially with the never-ending feeling of missing my friends and the campus.
Reema Amr, Marketing Senior
This semester has been a rollercoaster, to say the least. At first, it was all so confusing, with each professor experimenting with a new teaching technique. Each class' syllabus changed at least twice, and it became hard to keep track of what was due when.
I would say what didn’t work was that, in many cases, classes were extended an hour or two above their allocated time, blurring the line between ‘university life’ and ‘personal life.’ Moreover, as someone who has trouble focusing for too long, it was an impossible task for me to be attentive throughout the entire class. Thankfully, though, my professors would always record the lectures, and that became especially useful when the material started getting harder.
I also struggled with group projects, which were very challenging to navigate. When we were on campus, a simple five-minute meeting after class would help us set the plan for our project. But the second we shifted online, it became very hard to find a common time where all members would be free to hold a meeting and discuss the project, and it felt like no matter how hard we tried, there was no way we could replicate the same quality of work we would have had we stayed on campus.
There’s no telling what’s to come, that’s for sure. No one knows what the Fall 2020 semester holds, but if we will continue our classes online, I believe it would be an overall better experience, since the element of surprise is no longer there, and we’re all prepared.
All in all, we always talk about how great the future will be, and how because of technology, our lives would become so much better and easier. While that could be true in certain fields, I don't believe that online learning would be one of those aspects that would improve our lives. In this particular instance, online learning is a necessity. But, generally speaking, it’s not fair to compare online learning with the on-campus experience; there are simply too many elements that can’t be replicated to ensure the same quality of education or experience.
Miriam Nabil Roshdy, Finance Sophomore
At first, I really want to congratulate AUC and AUC School of Business for their outstanding efforts to make this semester continue as efficiently as possible. We’re dealing with a global pandemic that locked the whole world down and learning to cope with it was essential to continue being productive. I’m very proud of AUC’s efforts to provide its students with the best possible education through the unforeseen circumstances that were very testing to all institutions.
There is no doubt that we all missed the campus, including myself, but online learning was great in several specific aspects. I consider myself a lazy person, so I really found the experience time and energy-saving, especially with regards to the everyday commute to university. Moreover, in my courses, there were always set lecture timings and clear due dates that enabled me to organize my time and feel punctual.
However, some instructors found online learning a more difficult process to deal with than others, which is understandable. Unfortunately, though, this was reflected on how the classes were managed; haphazardly in a way. In contrast, though, some instructors became much more flexible in terms of communication methods, which was really appreciated. For example, they created WhatsApp groups and gave us the greenlight to contact them directly and conveniently instead of emailing them.
What I really liked was that there was always one way or another to continue learning. I found that recorded lectures were exceptionally useful and served as lifesavers in many times (such as in cases of weak internet connection.) Meanwhile, I still enjoyed Zoom meetings because interaction as a group was needed.
I believe that I really learnt a lot from online learning. Most importantly, I learnt to be resilient and adaptive to all situations. I now understand that it’s my responsibility to figure things out rather than wait for a given situation to get better. I think when COVID-19 ends, online learning will be essential and will be highly used besides on-campus learning. I advise everyone to be patient and relaxed, but prompt and willing to navigate anything life gives to finish their journey strong and tough.
Malak Khattab, Finance Sophomore
I believe that online learning is an experience that everyone will recall because it broke the boundaries of the learning environment and it digitalized the learning journey, which was uncommon before COVID-19. On a global level, online learning proved to the world that learning is an ongoing process that would not be halted even by the spread of a global pandemic. On a smaller scale, this experience showed that AUC can withstand many difficulties and can make the learning process possible even in the hardest times.
Like everything in this world, online learning has its pros and cons. I think it was possible to be executed in the Spring 2020 semester because of the previously existing interactions between faculty and students in the months of February and March, before it all started. I believe that if it weren’t for those two months, online learning would have been difficult, since I find it to be a way of delivering content but not actually providing the privileges of socializing, interacting, or learning beyond the course material.
Hence, I can say that even though online learning was successful, it’s not a sustainable learning method because dealing with people behind screens can never be the same as interacting with them in real life. I truly miss everything about the campus; the classrooms, meeting people in the plaza, studying in the library, student activities, everything about it is to be missed.
However, some strategies did manage to efficiently deliver the content. I personally preferred the strategy of having recorded lectures on Panopto and an optional Zoom meeting during class time to discuss the material further and ask questions. I also liked the idea of having Whatsapp groups because it was easier to reach our professors and they usually responded faster than they would through emails.
What was crucial as well was having set schedules for every aspect of the courses, including deadlines, course lectures, assignments, and assessments. This really helped me to keep up with all of the requirements of the different courses and sometimes allowed me to work ahead and finish the required tasks beforehand. Planning was key.
Finally, as mentioned, I do very much believe that online learning saved both our Spring 2020 semester, ensured our wellbeing, and was an efficient method in this case, but not a sustainable one. Being on-campus and attending classes is a truly different experience and a different world. To me, online learning is more of a backup method that universities can resort to in times of crisis.
This entire experience taught me to be grateful for the life I was once bored of. I became grateful for driving to university, meeting people, attending face-to-face classes, and working on projects at late nights on the campus. I also learnt that life moves on, and that humans are capable of finding solutions for any circumstances, and that cooperation in tough times is key.
Malak Hegab, Marketing Junior
Online learning allowed me to reflect differently upon my studies this semester, both positively and negatively. This semester took a drastic turn that no one really anticipated; however, I’m grateful for this experience because it prepares us for any similar future cases.
There were many advantages and disadvantages to the online experience. For one, I usually enjoy classes on campus where I get to communicate with my professors and colleagues. It makes a major difference in our learning styles and daily routine. It was very hard for me to adjust to the online experience because I’m a person who enjoys visiting the campus, greeting my friends in the morning and catching up, and I’m sure most of the students would typically agree with this statement. Personally, university is not just about classes for me, it’s about the people that made up the classes.
However, some of the benefits of online learning included the fact that I got to create my own schedule for classes and work because all due dates were set before-hand, which was exceptionally helpful. Allowing myself to be flexible with lectures, assignments, and projects helped me calm down my anxiety as I set a schedule according to my home-routine. I found the recorded lectures via Microsoft PowerPoint to be very effective because I could easily visit any slide and re-listen to the explanation, which worked out pretty well for me, especially in challenging courses.
All in all, honestly, the feeling of online learning will never come near the campus experience, and I do hope, wholeheartedly, that we do come back soon and this whole virus will be lifted over us. I miss socializing on campus with my friends, working in the library, and I miss going to class physically. I miss the tiny things we all took for granted one day, and I’m 100% sure that once things start to go back to somewhat normal, no one is going to be taking anything for granted, and will appreciate everything.
My key takeaway from this experience is to make the most out of everything in life. Even though this is such a new, different, and exhausting period for all of us we will never have this much free time again, so we might as well try to make the most out of it. Another takeaway is to appreciate all the tiny bits of memories you made, and to not give up on hope; instead, you can try to work on yourself and your weaknesses and do something different. You can also make new memories and reach out to your friends and family as a coping mechanism, which has been proven effective.
Academically, I know what went wrong, personally, and what worked, and thus I can now give solid advice to my fellow colleagues. One important piece of advice is to set a daily schedule, and not a weekly one, because it’s more likely that you might not follow it, thus adding more stress and anxiety. Another one is to stay on track with every class; don’t save the lecture and tell yourself you’ll do it later, so train yourselves to take the class at the desired class time and you’ll find yourself working really well to avoid procrastination. And the most important advice is to trust yourself and give yourself time to contemplate whatever you’re feeling to avoid bottling up your anxiety, stress, and emotions. You can do this by talking to someone you trust, a family member, or you could engage with online therapy (the university offers it). It is crucial to work on yourself, your mental state, and do what makes you comfortable, and with time, things will get better, but only if you trust yourself and stay on track. It is very overwhelming, but you can surely do it if you set your mind to it.
Lastly, please know that academics are not the only thing you should be solely focusing on, divide your day into 50% work, 50% spend time with yourself, your family, or to take a walk, exercise, practice an instrument—anything that makes you feel good. You got this, all you need is comfort and support, and I’m giving you mine.
Finally, I would like to give a major thank you to every professor who created a supportive environment for their students, we definitely appreciate you.