Students on Online Education

September 8, 2020
Ideas That MatterJulia Winter

What ideas do students have for online education?

We talk with Tanjot Grewal of McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) and Nicole Kada of Wayne State University (Detroit, Michigan) about the student perspective about the coming online semester. What are some of the ideas they bring to make online learning more effective? How does accessibility for all students play a part in this discussion? What are the silver linings, if any, from this shift to online during the Covid-19 pandemic? We end on a hopeful note about the future!

This is a great conversation – let’s get back to school and keep moving forward.

Read the Transcript

Narrator (00:03): Welcome to ideas that matter where we meet people, making a difference in education. Today, Julia focuses in on the student perspective of online classes. What can make online learning more effective? What ideas do students have? Today's guest Tanjot Gewal of McMaster university and Nicole Kada of Wayne state university. Give their insight.

Julia Winter (00:24): Hi, I'm Julia Winter with the ideas that matter podcast,where we look at different ideas in education, especially in higher education.And right now we have two students who are looking forward to their fall semester in the midst of COVID, and we want to see if they have some lessons for us based on what they've learned over the last five months. So we have come Tanjot Gewal from McMaster university in Canada. So tell us a little bit about where you are in your educational journey.

Tanjot Grewal (00:54): Hi everyone. Thank you for inviting me, Julia. I am pursuing my fourth year honors chemical biology co-op degree right now, and this is going to be my thesis year. So I'm super excited, but I'm a bit worried that labs won't be opening up, but I will be coming back for fifth year. So hopefully Covid will have passed by 2022. Yeah, Hamilton, Ontario. We're all online. Just like the rest of the world right now and fall term is going to be online

Julia Winter (01:18): And when do you start ?

Tanjot Grewal (01:24): this upcoming? September 8th.

Julia Winter (01:27): September 8th. Okay, and Nicole, who we interviewed just when COVID was starting in March is just down the street in Detroit at Wayne State university, but I'll let Nicole introduce herself.

Nicole Kada (01:41): Hi, so I am Nicole Kada, like Julia has said. I was fortunate enough to be on the podcast a few months ago. Thanks Julia. Um, and I'am from Detroit, Michigan. I attended Wayne state university for the past three years. I graduated with my bachelor's in nutrition and food science in the spring, and I am actually going back to school next week, September 2nd, to pursue my dietetics career to become a registered dietician. So I'm going to be receiving my certification in that and I should be done by 2022.

Julia Winter (02:17): Very cool. So, and the reason why we did interview here earlier is because she's legally blind can only see a little bit of light. Is that correct? Nicole?

Nicole Kada (02:28): Yeah, I have light perception, but other than that, I'm pretty blind.

Julia Winter (02:32): It gives us a completely different perspective as we move into online environments. Right now, we're doing this podcast on zoom and I can look at Tanjot, but to tell Nicole say when 20 minutes is up, we had to figure out different cues to be able to do that. So those are one of those things we had to troubleshoot that right away, even on this podcast to make sure that our communication was accessible to both interviewees. So you know how it went over the last five months, positives and negatives of going online and wether and just give us your thoughts along those lines. So I'll start with Tanjot onthat.

Tanjot Grewal (03:16): So for me, it was a bit different because I was on my first co-op term since January of 2020, and Co-operative education is essentially an internship, a paid position for undergraduate students. And so,I didn't have to deal with online exams, but from March 18th, I moved back home and was working from home and I had to deal with setting up, or trying to setup VPNs, testing different web browsers to see which ones worked best doubtingon desktop apps like MSTs and zoom. And, um, working from home was chaotic because you go from the fixed eight to four shift to work whenever you can findtime, aside from the noise and distractions and some wifi issues, there were definitely silver linings in the move back home. I got to spend a lot of time with family. I had fresh food every day and I didn't have to pay for rent anymore. So definitely some good things that came out of this.

Julia Winter (04:17): So what's your co-op sponsor accommodating. Were you a little worried that you wouldn't even have a co-op?

Tanjot Grewal (04:23): Well, I was fortunate to be starting in January, 2020, butfor students who were starting during the summer, they were having trouble finding work placements. And some of them got refusals. Like their co-ops were no longer running that they secured ahead of time. So the co-op office fortunately was able to come up with an agreement, allowing students to still keep them in the co-op program, despite them not having secured a co-op term for the summer, so a lot of flexibility.

Julia Winter (04:52): That's good. And that's sort of one of those highlights.We've all learned to be a little more flexible, I think over the last few months. So Nicole, give us a little rundown on what happened after we talked and I think it was early, early March or late February,

Nicole Kada (05:08): So Covid hit and it was a shock for everyone. There are pros and there are cons to it. I'll go into let's do the cons first, let's save the best for last the cons about it is accessibility. It was difficult because everyone was kind of shocked, which in a way that is a pro, because we're all together and we all understood each other's frustrations and fears and the only thing that kind of was frustrating is nobody had an idea of one platform.Everyone was like, okay, let's try canvas. Let's try zoom. Let's try MS Teams.Let's try a bunch of different things. Let's put recordings in one format and then another professor put recordings in a different format. And it's like,okay, you have to learn everything all at once and I think that made very difficult for students, especially, probably for me, because I do use a screen reader and it's not accessible with many platforms and websites, but

Julia Winter (06:06): Which ones are best because it MSTs. Is it canvas, is there one that you liked the best?

Nicole Kada (06:12): Yeah, so I love canvas, uh, but there are certain things in canvas that didn't work. So like one professor would use Echo for recordings. And for some reason I just couldn't find the play button to listen to the recordings. But then I had another professor that would upload them in a different format and that would work. So I had to figure out what did work and then communicate with the professors and the student disability services office to let them know. Uh, but other than accessibility and everyone just being shocked, uh, in a way COVID was convenient for me because I do rely on transportation from sighted people because I don't trust myself to drive and I don't think that's legal.

Nicole Kada (06:57): I've been bouncing back and forth between my parent's house and my uncle's house for the past three years, depending on who can drive me to school and carrying all of my bags, like my clothing bag, my computer bag. And like Julia knows I'm a YouTube content creator. So I have that bag with all my camera equipment. So carrying that to school and back and forth between houses was very stressful and frustrating and I did have mental breakdowns sometimes it's just like, geez, I just wish I could drive because Uber is expensive, if I didn't have families. So it was nice to just be in one place all the time and not have to worry about feeling like a burden to people driving me.

Julia Winter (07:38): I moved up to our Northern Michigan home. So I get to live in the woods. For me, I've been just a joy having a garden up here cause we hada garden because we haven't been here to water it. So there are silver linings and I think one of the things you touched on is all these different platforms and I have to say, I think professors, they had to make changes to their whole curriculum in the matter of a week, sometimes less and there wasn't a central place for them to tell them how to do it. So I think everybody tried to figure out it was, it's almost like they hack their way into online education. We're hoping that going into the fall that each university has flat platform, like this is how we're going to do this. At least we hope that over the summer, those decisions have been made because that would be easier, not just for people with screen readers, but for everyone. Right? So we're getting used to, I haven't used Microsoft teams very much. I've used zoom a lot. Now, as you look forward to the next year, are there some suggestions beyond keeping a single platform for your professors as they teach online? So Tanjot, why don't you start with that?

Tanjot Grewal (09:00): So for one, the lecture delivery, I think should be flexible for students who attend synchronous lectures, they should definitely be recorded if the class is not already asynchronous and although I prefer synchronous lectures because it'll help me keep on track and provide me with a schedule and some dedicated study time, I feel like based on everyone's personal needs and situations living from home with family, right now, there are many benefits of recording lectures and that's something that should be readily available and not questioned by profs when providing to students. Yeah.

Julia Winter (09:39): Right, and those are the kinds of things like other asynchronous pieces, like discussion boards. Do those, do those happen? Are those useful?

Tanjot Grewal (09:50): Yeah. So I know like even before Covid, we've always been using discussion boards on like the school's learning management Platforms, but you always see like the activity on those trickle down after the first two weeks of school starting and they only get busy once like exams and midterms come back around. So we'll definitely see those being actively used by all of the students in terms of answering key discussion questions that related to their lecture content. I mean, it'll help keep students who miss the lecture and didn't have the opportunity to ask the question live, to put it forth so that everyone can see it and can get response. And on top of that, you know,students, they create group chats on like Facebook messenger to interact with specific courses to see like who can help, who cause you know, sometimes a student,is the best teacher for another student.

Julia Winter (10:43): Exactly. So Nicole, any ideas?

Nicole Kada (10:48): I definitely agree with, Tanjot on definitely have synchronous, but also provide asynchronous. So definitely for me, I have to beon track. I need a routine, I need a schedule. I need something where I can look and be like, I have to do this today right now, or else I'll fall behind and routine has always been my thing. So I definitely think it would be very beneficial to have professors be like, Hey, I need you to sign in at this time,but I don't think you should get marked down if you can't join at that time.Because we do have family. A lot of us are living with family now, and family can be very distracting and not just distractions, but if your family members get ill and you need to take care of them, you should be able to not feel guilty for missing your class and being afraid that you will get marked down orif you end up in the hospital yourself, you need to not be afraid that you will get punished for not attending your class and then recordings are very beneficial because now if you weren't able to attend class, you can, but even if you were able to attend the first time around, it's still nice to go back and listen to recordings and take better notes.

Julia Winter (11:57): Are most of these recordings posted on canvas or how? I don't even know. I'm just asking.

Nicole Kada (12:04): That's how mine were posted in the spring semester. So I'm assuming it's going to be the same way for the fall.

Julia Winter (12:09): So, it's easy to get to them. Oh, you can always find them. You know, it's, I'm going to ask, you said Facebook messenger groups. Do people use Group Me and WhatsApp and other things make their own study groups.

Nicole Kada (12:21): I know at Wayne State, very common it's WhatsApp. I wish they used Messenger. I've never thought about that, but I'm going to suggest that for the fall semester, because messenger is so much nicer than WhatsApp.

Julia Winter (12:34): Well, I just know there's so many different ways to communicate now and that goes to another bad side of communication. Like how do you cut down on some of the cheating that might happen during exams? That's one of those front and center questions that professors have. Now I know that if you're going to cheat, you could probably cheat in person as much as online,but there is this completely different feel for taking an exam online, vs in person. So are there any ideas along those lines?

Tanjot Grewal (13:10): So I know I was looking at course outlines for my coming fall term and they mentioned using online proctoring software. So that is a possibility so that this screen is locked for you and they can see like what you're able to view and they have the webcam on you as well. It does feel a little bit creepy. So they better give us some practice tests with online proctoring for us.

Julia Winter (13:38): That's a good idea. Like try a low stakes, quiz, something like that. So you know how it all works because we're all getting used to thisanyway. Yeah. Yeah. How would you, Nicole, you have any ideas?

Nicole Kada (13:52): So I've actually taken at least one online course every semester for the past three years and Wayne state university uses something called "Lockdown Browser", which does lock your screen. You can't access anything except for the exam and there is a camera feature. So they make you do a 360 view of the room before you take your exam to make sure there's noone there. They make you show your student ID. They make you talk so that they can hear your voice to test out the audio. So it's all proctored and honestly,I feel like it is a good way. If we aren't going to be taking exams in person,it is a nice way to make sure that students don't cheat. For some reason, I don't know why, but the pressure of the online is a lot worse than in person,like I will have more anxiety even though you are still being proctored in person, but there's something about online.

Nicole Kada (14:45): That's just more anxiety and I use scribes. So now instead of in person with my scribe and taking my exams at the student disability services office, I have to make a phone call to them. They have to put me on speaker, and when they're doing the 360 view, it's not of me, it's of them because they're the ones reading it. Yeah. So that's not even me on the camera and I have to let my professors know that now, because before we would meet at,you know, SDS (Student Disabilities Services) or at a library and we would both be in the room and I'd explained to my professors before the exam like,"Hey, I just saw you to let you know, my scribe will be with me", but now I'm not even there and it's strange, but it's doable.

Julia Winter (15:28): You know, it is interesting. And I think it's really good for our instructors to hear that it's more anxiety provoking to take a test online, at least in the, and I saw Tanjot, nodding her head than it is in person. I remember, you know, the big lecture halls with the small little desks and taking my physics exam or my organic chemistry exam and that was anxiety provoking, but to have it be more so online, I guess I'm surprised about that reflection, and I think that's one where it's nice to hear that because professors need to know that, that this is really unnerving for students. So let's look at what we think, what do we hope is going to happen over the next few weeks to a couple months? And you know, it's always good to chat. I'm a glass half full kind of lady.

Julia Winter (16:26): You know, let's try to find some silver linings in this.So Tanjot, Why don't you go on that one.

Tanjot Grewal (16:32): For me, my biggest hope is that asides from giving us those practice tests online so we can get used to them that our profs are more flexible with their rubrics and provide opportunities for reweighing the course material and assessments they cover, and on top of that, I feel, I feel like through this entire process, going online, all of us are going to have to learn how to become more patient and practice compassion towards each other because we're all in the same boat. And just as it is for students teaching, learning online, it's just as hard for proffs or teaching online for the first semester for a full term.

Julia Winter (17:08): Yeah. Students can be pretty brutal on professors. Don't you think?

Nicole Kada (17:14): I've had to call a few students out on it. I'm like,"you guys need to understand that it's just as hard for them as it is forus, if not more for them, because they have to come up with a plan for us. We just have to figure out how to use the plan they come up with."

Julia Winter (17:27): Well, that's wonderful to hear. I know we have a lot of professors in our podcast subscribers. It's sort of good to hear that there are students out there that understand how about you for a silver lining, Nicole.

Nicole Kada (17:44): Hopes and dreams. Accessibility, I've already seen huge improvement in that and I'm very happy because that has been something I have fought for for so many years and I hope that I could help with any of that. Uh,if I possibly can.

Julia Winter (18:00): You think that people, it's (Accessibility) more front and center, it's one of those things that our people think about now, is that what you're saying?

Nicole Kada (18:07): I definitely am saying that. So I feel like people didn't think people didn't think of accessibility in the way that I would, you know,someone might say, Oh, well, if I can get to the website, then it's accessible,but there's more to it. There's more layers to that, that people don't realize,but now that everyone is in the same boat, everyone sees what accessibility really means, and people are reaching out. I have done so many testings this summer with people that have reached out and like, "Hey, can you test this out for me please?"

Julia Winter (18:42): They want their, their lessons and their products to be accessible.

Nicole Kada (18:46): Yeah, and I've never had that happen before and I'm going to school for dietetics, but with everything going on, I'm kind of like, should I have gone for accessibility?

Julia Winter (18:58): Then you get, you get, you get both. You can do, you know,two different things.

Nicole Kada (19:01): Exactly, and I really liked that there's that unity. I feel like we're all in the same boat and everyone is understanding of each other, and like a Tonjot said, there's going to be more compassion. We're just all getting closer and there isn't so much anger.If we're frustrated, there's more understanding, and I really like that.

Julia Winter (19:22): You know, and I guess that's maybe coming through with the lack of the face to face the community, feel of, of a campus. We have to find ways to add that back in, and if, if we can do that by supporting each other and helping each other through these next few months, then I think we're all better for it, and with that, I think this has been a great conversation. I always like to end on a happy note and I wish both of you the best of luck, and I don't think either of you need the luck, as we move into the next semester with Nicole starting next week and Tanjot starting after the US labor day, and thank you so much for joining us.

Nicole Kada (20:06): Thank you for having us.

Tanjot Grewal (20:07): Thank you for having us, Julia.

Narrator (20:14): Thank you for listening to "Ideas That Matter".Is there a guest you want to hear on the show? Send us your opinion by being apart of our growing community and join the discussion by following us@LearnAlchemie on Instagram and Twitter. This podcast was created and published by Alchemie edited by Liz gross, produced by Tiffany Jones and narrated by Gianna Manchester.


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