By Ryan Li
How online meeting software helps distance learning, and whether it works
Being a journalism student at Hong Kong University, it was an excellent opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and learn more about different cultures by studying in another country. Unfortunately, I was only two months into my foreign exchange program when I had to pack my bags, leave Denmark, and return to Hong Kong.
The five-month-long overseas study had been interrupted by Covid-19. In-person classes and study tours were canceled. I was not happy with returning home, but it was the safest option, so I resigned myself to it.
The lockdown and social distancing measures in Denmark prevented us from holding physical classes since mid-March. Instead, they were held virtually using video conferencing software. Unlike regular classes, only the lecturer speaks on camera during the lecture. Even the students who are usually talkative or outspoken don’t say much. I’m also reluctant to unmute the microphone and speak. With a lower level of interaction, it doesn’t feel like a classroom environment.
However, online instruction has kept us connected to our peers and allowed us to keep up with scheduled interviews, even after returning home. As journalism students, we had to engage in many group projects. Despite the distance, video conferencing has offered almost the same convenience as face-to-face meetings. I still managed to interview various officials and politicians despite being in another country.
However, there are still some unique experiences that technology can’t replace. One of the most critical aspects of reporting is to be at the news scene, where you can gather firsthand details, and avoid relying solely on your main interviewee. Information, such as visual descriptions and statements made by those on the scene, cannot be collected virtually.
On the academic-side, distance learning poses a challenge to teachers who have had to adapt to virtual instruction. They have to make the most of online meeting software, using group meetings and screen sharing to carry out their lessons effectively. Many teachers have faced technical problems, which has made the lessons less efficient.
Despite my complaints about the limitations of technology in some circumstances, I do appreciate the fact that we have it at our disposal during these times of change. If Covid-19 had struck three decades earlier, the effects would be wholly different; distance learning would be hard to carry out, if not impossible.
The outbreak also makes job searching more difficult. There have been countless headlines of companies laying off and furloughing staff, so it’s safe to say hiring freezes are common. Searching for internship opportunities was tough due to limited choices and increased competition.
To be honest, I don’t enjoy staying at home all the time and participating in distance learning. I would rather meet my friends at school and work on interesting projects together. I am grateful that distance learning has kept me connected to education in these difficult times. However, I still hope that I can wave goodbye to video conferencing in the near future.
About the Author
Ryan is a third-year journalism student at the University of Hong Kong. He is passionate about following new tech trends, especially in computers and smartphones. Ryan also enjoys taking photos and filming videos to record bits and bites of life.