Tino Maduku, recent Masters Graduate of Gachon University, South Korea, outlines their personal experience of ’emergency remote teaching’ as a consequence of COVID-19. Their ability to customise and personalise the experience is noteworthy.
Technology has created new opportunities for students and educators to view educational processes, goals, and environments in an exciting way. Access to the Internet and digital technologies has changed the learning experience and a one-size-fits-all approach is giving way to customization in content, learning styles, methodology, and practice. Thus, learning has evolved, shifting to a more student-centered approach that supports a more equitable experience for students.
Considering the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic which disrupted education worldwide, flexible learning ensured the continuity of inclusive and accessible education when traditional modes of learning were not feasible. The 3rd semester of my Master’s program in Global Business and Entrepreneurship was scheduled to commence in March 2020. However, there were delays as university administrators were deciding on the best course of action for learning to continue during the pandemic. At this time, online learning systems to support emergency remote teaching were not yet fully in place so the decision was to wait for the outbreak to be contained. As time progressed, the department decided to start the semester online as there was no indication that the outbreak would slow down soon.
The semester eventually commenced in April 2020, with the use of Cisco Webex Meetings for video lectures. In June 2020, when there seemed to be a reduction in the number of cases, we were asked if we preferred to continue with online learning or would rather return to the physical classroom. As my colleagues and I were already used to the flexible mode of learning offered by the former, we opted to continue learning online, which continued until the end of July 2020 when the semester ended. Online learning during this period offered me a form of flexibility, rather than having to show up to a class as a requirement, online learning gave me full control and accountability as I could decide and allocate time for learning on my own accord. This control allowed me to co-ordinate my learning around other commitments and ensured that I would learn at the optimal time, in a less stressful environment. By taking responsibility for my own learning experience, I also acquired self-discipline which is a skill I can later implement within the workplace.
Learning materials were made available in digital formats, such as webcasts, videos, audio; and this helped me achieve better grades as I was learning at my own pace, and I could always refer to the digital content for details I might have missed. The flexibility of online learning allowed me to fully grasp concepts and ensured full comprehension before moving to the next section or topic. I was exposed to various online learning tools and technologies such as WebBoard, Google Groups, Desire2Learn, Moodle, SlideShare, Mural, and bulletin boards. Using these tools made me well-versed in technological advances and increased my technical acumen.
I also got to be accountable during exams which were to be taken online and this element was challenging as we were required to have 2 cameras turned on during the exam (webcam showing my face and another camera showing my hands and screen) for the examiners to have full control of the online exam environment. The experience did come with some challenges though for example, as these exams were computer-based. Although provisions were made, some of my colleagues who could not type fast were anxious about completing the exams within the time limit. The 4th semester was a lot more flexible as I was only writing my thesis, with no classes to attend, however I did have a flexible supervision process as I would occasionally meet my thesis supervisor online or in-person depending on the situation.
Through this experience of flexible learning, I got to appreciate learning more. Flexible learning identified and managed the diversity between me and my peers. Abilities, efforts, and aspirations differ between students, the flexible learning provided by online learning ensured that we all enjoyed learning and performed to our highest potential. I easily felt like the curriculum was developed for me to succeed and this pushed me to fully express myself. I got to pursue my areas of strengths and interests, which did not come at the expense of other students. I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with my peers online to discuss course assignments, practical and theoretical applications of new information. I also enjoyed sharing and co-editing presentations synchronously and asynchronously and this generated insight into learner-directed approaches and fostered engagement.
Overall, through flexible learning, my learning outcomes were improved, and I got the most out of the educational experience as access to learning increased. In a way, resources were not wasted, I felt I could focus on the requirements of the curriculum and my needs as a learner, leading to quality learning. This effectively determined how much and how well I learnt translating into personal, social, and development skills. As I assumed responsibility for my learning, I also learnt other leadership skills and learnt to become independent and accountable in all aspects of life.
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