Virtual Resumption: Obstacles in Wall-Free Classrooms?

By: Olowolayemo Samuel

In no uncertain terms, by the time of this publishing, the second week of the second semester for the 2022/’23 academic session of the University of Ibadan is underway, but with lecture and practical halls not in use.  The school management announced a two-week virtual resumption out of the three weeks election break given by the National University Commission to tertiary Institutions. In lieu of this, online classes were slated to start last week Monday, February 27, 2023. As of last week Friday, virtual classes have not commenced in many departments. In Law, Pharmacy, Chemistry, and a few other departments’ students claim to have begun classes, but the classes have been inconsistent. 

Reaching out to some students who have commenced virtual classes for the session, a student from one of these departments said, “The classes have been going so well, except that getting data has been a hassle and that poor power supply makes attending classes tough”. Another student said that classes had been going fine and fast but argued that students needed to be in class to get a clearer view of what was projected in the slides. We have been here before, but for a different reason. 

In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic that put the globe on lockdown significantly changed the approach to lecture delivery in most Nigerian Institutions. Ever since, most universities, in varying proportions, now adopt virtual classes in between the traditional ways for their lecturing. While the possible gains from wall-free classrooms are enviable, like personalized education, flexibility, and enhanced time management skills, they are hampered by a number of issues in Nigerian tertiary institutions, preventing optimal learning by the students. The most pressing issue in virtual classes is technology because online learning depends on technological tools and the internet. 

For some students, acquiring the necessary equipment for online learning is challenging due to inadequate finances. This promotes inequality in learning opportunities. Virtual classes in Nigeria also rarely put into consideration People Living With Disabilities (PLWD), and a study finds that PLWD gets emotionally distressed from their inability to cope with the learning process.  The cost of data has been a major obstacle to virtual classes. The platforms for lectures like zoom, Google Meet, YouTube, etc consumes much data; and from my experience in the 2021 virtual classes, it was a serious challenge that made me miss a lot of classes. The erratic power condition in my area also affected me during the 2021 virtual resumption and I could remember missing classes and not meeting up for an assignment deadline. 

Virtual resumption poses challenges to educators in measuring student accountability and academic integrity and to also monitor their behaviors to ensure they are adhering to academic standards. There is also the lack of face-to-face interaction between lecturers and students, which makes it difficult for them to gauge students’ grasp of what is being taught and respond to their needs.  The need for e-learning cannot be thwarted, because there are situations that would not allow for physical gatherings, like the pandemic. Are we going to stop learning in such a scenario?  No. If we must adopt wall-free classrooms, education stakeholders must channel ways to solve the inequality in access to virtual learning, ensuring inclusivity and accessibility to all.

They should also be trained on how to curb academic dishonesty among students by using plagiarism detection tools and proctoring devices that help monitor students during online tests. There should also be training to equip lecturers with know-how skills to facilitate effective learning like training in the use of power points, learning management systems, and so on. The University can also provide technical support to students to aid their access to technology and internet connectivity.

The obstacles aside, virtual classes, at least for me, help save time and energy, and also in reducing stress and daily costs like transportation — especially now that the t-fare from the Great Independence Hall to Abadina area is N100. So, please enjoy the virtual resumption.

Wishing you a happy wall-free classroom! 

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