On 15th March 2020, I received an email from my University informing me of the suspension of all classes, with immediate effect, due to an imported case of COVID-19. As the numbers of infected people grew, the President of Ghana banned all public and social gatherings. I received another email informing me of the temporary closure of halls of residence of the university on 18th March. 5 days later, I was informed again that the rest of the semester would be conducted online starting on 30th March. I suppose the online class was meant to be easy, efficient and effective, but in reality, it has been both a blessing and a curse.
In my experience, the online class has been a struggle filled with stress and tears. Regardless, as an optimist, I choose to see its good as opposed to all of its ills. In subsequent paragraphs, I will tell you wild tales, detailing my experience with online class- the good, the bad and the ugly. As ridiculous as some of these stories will sound, none of them is fiction.
As a Computer Scientist, I met this news with interest, hope and joy. I wholeheartedly welcomed this news. After all, I was quickly getting bored of staying at home during the Lock Down announced by the President of Ghana, as a measure of combating COVID-19.
The online class meant that vehicular traffic or bad weather could not bar my presence in class. I believed that it would make my lecturers more accessible because the lack of office hours would make them more responsive towards alternatives such as emails, WhatsApp messages, text messages and phone calls. Also, I craved flexibility, since online class would give me the freedom to juggle school, house chores and taking care of siblings. I welcomed the reduced intensity, allowing me to take as many breaks as I wanted while learning at my own pace.
The online class would guarantee me a recording of each class which I could re-play whenever I needed to. This was in contrast to in-person classes where most lecturers did not permit me to record their classes. In my opinion, the best part of the online class was that it was at the comfort of my home, which would make it easier for me to focus.
I thought that the online class was my Saviour. I believed it would be easier than the normal class, in fact, it would be a cool breeze. Oh, how wrong I was! The online class was more hectic than the normal class. I thought that the online class would ensure no lateness, allowing me to benefit from the full 2-hour class. Imagine my surprise, when all of my classes in the first week started at least 15 minutes later than the agreed-upon time.
I thought online meant flexibility, since I could have class anywhere. Unknown to me, I was in for a rude awakening. I quickly realized there were so many other factors which could force me to still miss classes. Frequent rains, thanks to the rainy season in Ghana, meant frequent electric power outage. No one told me that strong winds and heavy rains could not co-exist with power from the Electricity Company of Ghana.
Bad networks meant that I had to partake in zoom classes outside the comfort of my room. At the mercy of the clucking chickens, barking dogs, bellowing sheep/goats and mooing cows my family did not own. As if being under the mercy of the elements and these animals was not enough, I was at the mercy of people passing through my home, who felt insulted by a young girl ‘idling about’ on her phone and refusing to respond to their greetings.
I thought I had seen the worst of my struggle with the online class, until online tests and examinations began. Thankfully, questions were sent via email with instructions, indicating that submission is made through the same mode, some hours later, usually 24 hours. Even though it was easy to send answers via email, I quickly learnt that on a bad day, it could take over 45 minutes to send a simple email.
I recall a time I hurriedly submitted my work before the deadline with a wrong index number. For those of us in tertiary education, you can understand the implication of sending an assignment with a wrong index number. For those of us who have not experienced post-secondary education, your index number is basically your name. It is used to identify you instead of your name. Thus, if you write a wrong email, your score might be given to a person who is not you.
Another time, I submitted my assignment early only to realize 5 hours later and 3 minutes to the deadline that I mistyped the email address so ended up sending the assignment to the wrong person, re-sending the assignment meant I submitted my assignment 8 minutes beyond the time limit.
I could tell you of the time I sent the work the night before only to wake up to check just to be sure if the assignment had been sent to notice that I sent it without the attachment!! Note, the attachment is my completed work. Or the time I sent my work hours earlier, checked and rechecked at least 5 times to ensure I had really sent the work, only to notice 7 minutes to deadline that I had sent the wrong attachment.
Perhaps the ugliest experience is when I finished my paper 3 hours before the deadline, could not connect my laptop to my MiFi, phone hotspot or modem. I borrowed my mother’s android phone to connect to my laptop by cable yet none of my laptop’s USB recognized the phone or any of the Pen drives I tried to transfer the completed test unto. The laptop’s Bluetooth which always connected to my Bluetooth speaker and headphones would simply not pair with any phone in my home. After trying too many things, my laptop froze, so I had to forcefully shut down my laptop. Only to reboot the laptop to find that this laptop was installing automatic updates. Finally, I transferred the finished work onto a pen drive and send it a min late using my cousin’s laptop. That day felt like the world was conniving or conspiring against me.
Although I wished I could explain my constant struggle with submitting my assignment to my lecturers, I did not dare recount any of these to them. Though I wished I could explain the reasons for my consistent late submissions, I could never summon the courage. Think about it, suppose you were my lecturer and I narrated any of these to you, would you believe me? Personally, had anyone told me this, had I not truly experienced them for myself, I would never have believed any of it.
Regardless of the bad and ugly sides of the online class, I still believe that it was a great initiative. I am the first to admit that the online classes were not the best. There is still room for improvement. I admit, it was forced on Ghanaian tertiary schools, who lacked all the necessary structures required to allow for a smooth and comfortable transition. Deepak Chopra once stated that “Every great change is preceded by chaos.” Perhaps, COVID-19 was the perfect chaos to accelerate the introduction of online classes.
Although COVID-19 forced us into a future we were not ready for, I am grateful to every individual who did their best to ensure that we completed the 2019/2020 academic year. Kudos to all stakeholders of tertiary education, who like Martin Luther King, run, walked, crawled, did whatever they needed to do, to ensure they did not let this pandemic stop their progress. You proved that there is no time like the present to start something. Like Lao Tzu stated, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The first step was rocky, but I believe that if we keep working at it, then someday online class will truly be easy, effective and efficient. Of course, there are advancements to be made, but I am glad to have experienced these hardships first hand.
I plan to tell my kids, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, who I believe will see the best of online classes, of a time long forgotten, when I was part of the first group of tertiary students in Ghana who wrote their final examinations online. They will sit around the dinner table and listen to me as I tell them of times past, when submitting an assignment via email could end in tears.