Teams, Meets and Webex : A Zoom in on the Online Semester Part I

Updated: Feb 17



INTRODUCTION


This is a strange and historical time; we can all feel the significance of the moment, of a pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill. But today, nearly a year after the first case was reported, we are less concerned with the big picture and more worried about the daily details of living happy lives. Had we been asked last year how we would feel about an online semester, we might have looked at our beloved gadgets and shrugged: ‘I could probably manage a few months online. I’m glued to my laptop anyway.’ And yet this is so very different from anything we could have imagined. Being glued to your laptop in a quiet room at home is not the same as sitting in your loud, busy hostel wing and trying to work. There is a disconnect.


This is why we bring you an analysis of how this transition has affected the students of IIT Delhi. We’ll examine what everyone’s academic lives look like today, how socializing is taking place, and also think about some insights we received from non-student figures. And hopefully, along the way, we’ll understand how everyone is living, scattered to their own little corners of the country, and feel a bit more connected.


ACADEMICS

Handling today’s academic experience feels like staring down an entirely unfamiliar beast. The semester is shorter, lectures are less accessible, most lab components are a bygone dream, technical hiccups are inevitable. It is undeniably frustrating. But then, this isn't to say that there aren't some pros along with the cons. The distractions of campus are absent, we can dictate our own workdays, commuting time is nonexistent, and attendance is usually unenforced. There are both restrictions and freedoms. Let’s look at which way the balance has fallen for most students.


Concentration on online vs campus lectures

Firstly, the ability to concentrate on lectures has gotten more difficult for most students across the PG and UG sections. This might be due to internet problems, as 40% of our respondents tell us that internet connectivity is their primary problem with live lectures. However, there is still a substantial number of students - 25% of the UG section and 12% of the PG section - who find it easier to concentrate from home. Seems like some of us are definitely better off without friends to mess around in the lecture hall.

Recorded vs live Even though most profs prefer live lectures to recorded lectures because they’re a better approximation of offline teaching, 46% of students preferred recorded lectures over live lectures, and 27% had no preference either way. Also, there is a clear trend between this preference and the student’s CGPA. While only 39% of the students in the 9-10 range preferred recorded lectures, this number increased to 54% for students with CGPAs less than 7.

Problems with live lectures

Not surprisingly, the main problem faced by students in attending live lectures was internet connectivity. We see another dimension to the issue of internet connectivity in the fact that among the students who faced financial challenges due to lockdown, 49% faced internet issues as a primary problem and another 22% faced it as a secondary problem. It does raise an eyebrow, however, that the second most cited issue was household chores. 13% of our respondents say that being involved in household chores is their primary problem. The majority of these students (60%) are PG, which is understandable as they are older and have more household responsibilities.

We also see that a substantial number of students face issues due to odd class timings (11%) and the prof’s technological issues (12%). Understandably, over half of these students prefer recorded lectures to live lectures.


The environment on campus and studying

How you like to study is something that’s unique to every person - you study alone, you have study groups, you study with music, you prefer the quiet, you study at a table, you study on a couch… the variables are endless. So when asked, ‘Do you believe you studied better on campus?’ and the answer was a resounding yes.

74% of the UG section and 86% of the PG section preferred studying on campus. However, a significant part of the student population also seems to be enjoying their academic at-home experience - as one ecstatic student put it, “I am studying much much much better at home, and the same is the case with 90% of my friends.” 8% of students - the true survivors - are indifferent to whether they’re studying at home or on campus.


Course policies

Besides the teaching and studying, there’s another important component of any course - the structure and policies. That’s why we asked our respondents if their professors’ course policies were in agreement with institute guidelines for the online semesters, and this is what we found:




In the Mechanical and Textile departments, the number of students saying that the policies go against institute guidelines outweighs the number of students who say that they’re fine. There is clearly a problem with either the course policies or their communication in these departments.

When we asked our respondents to give us their comments regarding this, the issues cited were-

  • Some professors are not recording lectures, e.g. in MTL717, so students with poor connectivity and electricity are missing out completely. Also, some courses still have attendance criteria, which goes against institute guidelines.

  • Some courses are having surprise quizzes that students miss due to connectivity issues, e.g. in APL102, MSL305/306, APL108 and some of the CS 3rd year courses.

  • Lab sessions are difficult to follow and neither are they recorded; many students feel that lab components should be deferred to Sem II-B.

Along the same lines, we asked students to rate from 1 to 5 how clear the professors’ instructions were with respect to scheduling, grading and course policies.


The UG section rated the course instructions an average of 3.35.

The PG section rated the course instructions an average of 3.91.

SOCIALIZING

Our social lives have arguably taken the greatest hit this year. You can approximate classroom learning with live lectures and MS Teams’ Together Mode, but it’s far more difficult to simulate hanging out at WindT after class or having a night out in SDA. Perhaps even more difficult is coordinating everyone’s erratic work-from-home schedules for a game of Among Us. So, we wanted to know how our respondents had been faring in different spheres of campus socializing.


Peer interaction

We felt that the most basic question to ask was: how have interactions between friends changed over the lockdown? Not surprisingly, 80% of students felt that their interactions with their friends and peers had decreased, and another 13% reported no change.

We also wanted to know how many people had taken the opportunity of lockdown to make new friends. Around 25% of our respondents had expanded their friend circles, while 50% reported no change, and tragically, the remaining people said they had lost friends during the lockdown.

We also saw that people whose interactions with their friends increased were also thrice as likely to have made new friends during lockdown compared to people whose peer interactions decreased.

Additionally, people whose social interactions had not changed over lockdown were twice as likely to make new friends as people whose interactions had decreased.


New hobbies/club activities

No one who’s lived on campus can deny how useful club activities are in helping meet new people and keep up with old friends. So, we wanted to know how people’s club involvement had changed over the last six months. We found that nearly 60% of our respondents reported a decrease in club/sports activities. This isn't surprising; a substantial number of students were stuck at home without connectivity, and a lot of places also had restrictions on outdoor activities.

We noticed that a certain category of students was far more affected than the rest. 66% of the UG population reported a decrease in club activities, as compared to 56% of the PG population. This could be because UG students were more involved in club activities before lockdown - they had 81% involvement as compared to the PG students’ 72%.



Romantic relationships

It’s certainly hard to be away from your friends, but we’re told it’s much harder to be away from your significant other (though we wouldn’t know; we are the 60%). It’s been a long half year since the campus was closed, and there’s no talk of reopening anytime soon. Under these trying circumstances, we wanted to know whether students had been having problems in their romantic relationships.

The vast majority of the student population (60%) had remained single through the lockdown and, sadly, around 16% reported that their relationships got worse or ended. However, we were happy to find that nearly 23% of people had managed to either maintain the status quo or improve the quality of their relationships.


Of the PG students who were already in a relationship at the beginning of lockdown, around 27% reported that the relationship ended. By contrast, in the UG section, the number of relationships that broke up was only 12%.


MENTAL HEALTH

We asked students two questions: Had they ever gone to a counsellor before lockdown? And had they considered it since lockdown started? What we found was that, predictably, a vast majority of students had never sought counselling for mental health issues.


Only around 10% of the student population had been to a counsellor. However, over 20% of students had considered seeking counselling after the lockdown began. Among these people, the majority of them (70%) were students who had never been to counselling before. So, due to lockdown, a total of around 15% of our respondents considered going to a counsellor for the very first time. Given how much of a mental toll this pandemic has taken worldwide, this is unfortunately not surprising.

What is alarming is that when we looked at the respondents who had been more badly affected than most by the lockdown, the percentage of people who had considered going for counselling since lockdown increased sharply.

For students whose romantic relationships got worse or ended, a vast majority did not seek counselling, but around 43% considered it. Out of these people, 28% had never been for counselling before (compared to the average of 15%).



Similarly, in the case of students who had lost friends during the lockdown, 32% thought of seeking counselling, where 19% were first-timers to counselling. Among students whose peer interactions decreased, 16% thought about counselling for the first time during the lockdown.

However, most notable of all, out of all our respondents whose families faced financial issues during the lockdown, 100% thought about going to a counsellor! What’s more, nearly 75% of these students were considering counselling for the first time.


The average IITD student clearly feels reluctant about going to a counsellor; maybe they can’t access it, or they feel like they don’t need it, or some other problem. We’ve seen, however, that due to the lockdown, a sizeable part of the population is thinking about counselling for the first time. We’ve also seen that students facing adverse circumstances are much more likely to seek counselling during lockdown than they were before.


To read about how the professors and counsellors think, click on the link below:

https://www.bspiitd.com/post/teams-meets-and-webex-a-zoom-in-on-the-online-semester-part-ii

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