Zoom zoom zoom – How a global pandemic can inspire evolution in education

Grab a name tag, stand 1.5 metres away, and sneeze into your elbow. In the wake of COVID-19, Jordan Michael takes you through your first day at the online Virtual University.

Wind back the clock to the early 2000s, and the idea of the year 2020 was the future – flying cars, talking robots and lightsabres. Yet as we crept closer and 2018 passed by, then 2019, we all felt a collective disappointment as our futuristic conceptions of 2020 seemed embarrassingly exaggerated. Alas, then it all changed with the attack of the coronavirus, and our societies were brought to their knees, and in the face of adversity we had to adapt quickly. In this future, no flying cars, talking robots and lightsabres were needed and the hopes and dreams they came with seemed more trivial than ever. Instead of flying cars, we needed teachers, those robots were the heroes working at the grocery store and the lightsabres were our noble scientists.

But it was collectively assumed that this evolution would be progressive and incremental. Instead, we now might have the answer of how efficient a digital world can be in the matter of months.

To say that the coronavirus has been a game-changer is an understatement. In less than a couple of weeks, businesses have had to arm themselves with digital solutions to optimise the process of working from home. Schools and universities have had to quickly initiate measures that have taken learning from the classroom, tutorial room or lecture theatre onto online learning platforms. As a result, the next six months is a case study for a digital humanity – World 3.0.

Prior to 2020, futurists were certainly arguing that the future of work and learning would be from the comfort of your own home. But it was collectively assumed that this evolution would be progressive and incremental. Instead, we now might have the answer of how efficient a digital world can be in the matter of months. This prospect is certainly disconcerting, as change often is. What is clear though is that businesses that will flourish during the pandemic lockdown are those that adapt best to this new way of digitalised living.

Move over ‘survival of the fittest’. Now is the time for ‘survival of the digital’

Educational institutions which transition the fastest and most efficiently to virtual platforms will result in the most effective learning during this time. Given the social experiment we are embarking on right now, it has to be considered: how will the coronavirus change the future of university?

For these months, university leaders all around the world have an important job – how can we maximise learning and minimise inconvenience on a digital space?

Welcome to Orientation Week at the Virtual University.

If you are, like myself, a University student, then over the last couple of weeks you may have become well acquainted with the platform Zoom, which is video conferencing platform that many online university tutorials have now transitioned into using. 30 students, 1 tutor, all in their homes, learning. So far, it has been hit and miss. Some have adapted well, whilst for others there is certainly learning curve. But let’s assume that for the next six months our university campuses are going to be closed and all our learning will take place online. For these months, university leaders all around the world have an important job – how can we maximise learning and minimise inconvenience on a digital space? Businesses equally may look into exploiting this market, given an increased demand during the pandemic lockdown. If an efficiency in online learning is achieved, it is not too much of stretch to imagine leadership boards at universities around the world to continue using these resources extensively post-coronavirus. This option is likely to be quite financially alluring too, as universities would be able to save money in various areas including rental space and classroom equipment.

Yes, online degrees were certainly available and accessible before, but these slow days of self-isolation invite improvement and redevelopment of these education tools and platforms.

There are immense benefits to a virtual university, especially in the form of educational access. Imagine for a second, a young and talented individual who may not have the financial ability to re-settle in Australia, but can access a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Melbourne remotely from Hyderabad, India. Or a stay-at-home father, who has to take care of his two-year old toddler, but at the same can complete his Masters of Architecture from home. Yes, online degrees were certainly available and accessible before, but these slow days of self-isolation invite improvement and redevelopment of these education tools and platforms. It therefore can become the catalyst for the new norm of the neo-university, which is virtual and global.

But there are certainly downsides to life as a student at virtual university. Perhaps most importantly, it will be the social, physical and even emotional aspects of learning. Things like being present and engaged for a fluid classroom discussion or debate. Or having a coffee with one of your tutors after class to discuss a topic that you are interested in. And those times you wasted on the lawn outside the library, chatting with your pals when you should have been inside the library studying. This last one strikes a chord with me, as I’ve met some of the best friends of my life at university. The thought that students of the future will miss out on this because they never actually met one of their peers in person is heartbreaking.

There are several advantages to be gained by technological advancement that we must access, but we must also ask ourselves how virtual do we want our lives to become? And what human values must we fight for in the face of a digitalising world? One thing that social distancing and self-isolation has made many of us aware of once again, is how important your neighbours, colleagues, friends and family really are. Parallel to technological progress, there may equally be a re-birth of social values and an important realisation that we no longer want to interact with our loved ones through a phone or a network, but over a coffee or beer. The coronavirus is the accelerator of the future, but I want to believe that we hold the steering wheel and the direction we take is toward rich social values and technology that harmonises with it.

Jordan Michael (not Michael Jordan) is a Masters of Secondary Teaching student at the University of Melbourne. He went to Japan for 4 months to live out the film ‘Lost in Translation’.

Support Et Cetera

Et Cetera is maintained by unpaid student editors and volunteers. Despite their hard work, there are ongoing costs for critical website maintenance and communications. Et Cetera is not linked to any specific university, and as such, is unable to access funding in the way most campus publications are able to.

Given our primary audience is university students, we appreciate not all of our readers are in a position to contribute financially.

This is why Et Cetera's survival relies on readers like you, who have have enjoyed, or been challenged, by our work. We appreciate every dollar that is donated.

Please consider supporting us via our PayPal, by clicking the button below:

More from Evolution and Revolution