NUS or Zoom University? My Third (Online) Semester
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
My freshmen year was rough, and it left me disillusioned. Regardless, I had to pull myself together for the new academic year. Due to COVID-19, all my classes were moved online besides my laboratory sessions. During the semester, I spent the majority of my time staring at my laptop screen. Looking at a digital screen for about ten hours daily took a toll on my eyesight. I suffer from high myopia (I am at 800 degrees currently) and I could feel my eyesight degrading.
Despite so, I still enjoyed online classes and do not mind its continuation. My opinion is likely unpopular as I felt that my college education was not significantly affected. Of course, the same cannot be said about the college experience.
I usually forget how to do calculus after the holidays lol. (Source)
Every week, I had 4 days of online classes and attended laboratory sessions on Fridays. Most of my classes started at 10 am. I would wake up five minutes before class starts and attend classes in my pajamas.
In lectures and most tutorials, only the professor would switch on their camera. Not having students switch on their cameras helped me to relieve Zoom fatigue. It eliminated the mental work of processing non-verbal communication such as facial expressions and body language. Unlike being in a lecture theatre, I was no longer distracted by other students as well. It was easier to concentrate on the content taught and the professor’s words. It is embarrassing to admit but I would unintentionally fall asleep during face-to-face lectures as well. Thanks to an online semester, I was able to sleep in and stopped dozing off while attending lessons.
Tutorials with class participation required us to switch on our webcams. For group discussions, we were separated into breakout rooms. Like face-to-face lessons, my tutor would visit every breakout room to facilitate discussions. Although online classes have restricted teaching methods, my tutors were able to effectively adjust to the online setting.
My GEQ tutor utilized e-materials like Miro to enhance our learning. Miro created an interactive classroom environment where I could share my opinions and showcase my work to the class. Surprisingly, I felt that online classes made it easier to communicate with my professors. Physical limitations were removed so I could easily ask questions by sending a message or unmuting myself. Initially, I was intimidated because there were over a hundred students in the same Zoom session. Over time, I realized that it was okay to just ask questions. An NUS professor even wrote a commentary on CNA about the increase in student and lecturer interaction during online classes. (Click here for the article).
All in all, I did not feel that my learning experience was largely affected by the online semester. I was doing most of my learning online previously as I preferred to watch lecture webcast. My tutors did a great job to ensure that teaching standards remained high during tutorials too.
My examinations were conducted through Zoom and most exams were open book. Some modules required us to use our phones as proctoring devices. Cell phones must be positioned to show our faces, hands, and computer screen to prevent communication among students. However, other modules required students to only use their webcam for proctoring. Despite invigilation, I felt that it was still easy for students to cheat. They could continue to communicate using Whatsapp web, Telegram web, or other communication platforms on computer. As webcams do not capture online activity, it would be difficult to prove that students indeed cheated during the exams. Although the professor did try to minimize instances of cheating, there is still lingering doubt in my mind.
I love this 11 seconds clip because it is hilarious and illustrates precisely why cheating is not smart.
Why The Semester Was Problematic:
Technical issue is the most annoying problem that plagued the semester. Minor problems often occur in lectures and tutorials such as Zoom lags and freezes. However, technical problems have occurred at critical moments such as during an examination. During my CM1501 exams, there were problems with Luminus hanging and the Zoom proctoring meeting crashing. My friends that faced these problems were anxious and distressed. Although make-up marks were given, the interruption affected their performance during the exam.
Without the need to go to campus, I spent much of my time hunched over my desk typing away on my laptop. My poor sitting posture caused backaches and I was walking less than 300 steps every day as I stay cooped at home. Spending so much time at home caused my life to feel stagnant and repetitive. To liven my life, I tried to introduce an exercise routine by jogging regularly and going on weekly hikes.
No this does not count. (Source)
It sucks to sweat and be exhausted, but I enjoyed becoming physically stronger and having the time to introspect. Little things such as changing my room arrangement, eating habits, or routines have helped to make everyday life less boring and dull.
Co-curricular activities were suspended, and zoning was implemented on campus to prevent the mixing of students from different facilities. When I returned to campus, it felt like a ghost town and it was a shadow of its former self. Events were either canceled or postponed indefinitely which negatively affected the student population. I cannot imagine the disappointment of the class of 2020 because their graduation ceremony was postponed to next year. Initially, I wanted to join NUS Ballroom because I had an interest in ballroom dancing. However, the school measures deterred me from joining because I felt that I could not enjoy the full experience. Over the semester, zoning measures eased but most student activities remained online.
I do wonder about paying the same tuition fees during an online semester as well. I understand the school has to maintain and upgrade its facilities, perform disinfection, and pay for online services like Zoom. However, is it reasonable to still charge students full price? A reduction in tuition fees will be greatly appreciated by students. It will be exceptionally helpful too for families that have been badly affected by the pandemic.
Despite the objections, uncertainties, and worries that had arisen initially, I think my professors tried to deliver the best teaching experience during the online semester. I did not feel that my college education was compromised, and I enjoyed online classes. However my college experience was less than enjoyable due to the online semester.