With 18.2 million students and 1.1 million teachers, the Turkish education system is a massive one. Including the tertiary education, more than 25 million students have been affected by the school closures in Turkey due to the devastating earthquake on February, 6.
In the following week, The Council of Higher Education (CoHE) announced that the commencing of the spring term at universities was postponed until further notice due to the earthquake. In a recent announcement, the CoHE stated that the current situation will be re-evaluated at the beginning of April and it will be decided how to continue education in universities. With this statement, universities and students were thrown into a new uncertainty.
Compulsory distance education
Having switched to compulsory distance education during the pandemic, the higher education institutions experienced many problems in managing this process partially caused by the lack of experience, which resulted in a great deal of failure because of wrong policies. It is obvious that re-switching to compulsory distance education again using the recent earthquake as an excuse will neither benefit the students, faculty members nor the university as an entity. The common opinion of the society is that transition to compulsory online education will pave way for new grievances, let alone providing any benefits.
Is the reaction of the society based solely on emotional reasons, or are there serious scientific reasons underneath? Beyond the new potential problems, I would like to share with you only some of the scientific facts underlying the negative attitudes of students towards online courses.
The cognitive load and social learning
1. Unlike face-to-face education, online education is a process that requires a longer processing of smaller content. While there are many factors underlying this fact, “cognitive load”, “student motivation and focus” and “interaction” stand out among them. Therefore, higher education students can only focus on a limited number of courses in online education compared to face-to-face education. Students can reach a full cognitive level in 45 minutes in face-to-face classes. This is only 15-20 minutes in online classes. Therefore, in online education, the number of courses should be limited to three to four per semester. In terms of cognitive load and focus, a lecturer can successfully conduct maximum two online courses in a semester.
2. Social learning is one of the most important mechanisms of learning because human beings are social organisms. When people are in the same environment with their peers, that is people from their own age group, they become more successful in constructing cognitive and social meaning. Hence, the possible “social and cognitive loneliness” felt in online classes is one of the most important obstacles to learning in online education. In order to prevent this feeling of social and cognitive loneliness, it is important to allow students to work in groups, to provide tutor support, and to enable recitation hours. It is important to receive help from senior students and graduates in tutoring or recitation sessions.
Applied courses online: inefficient
3. It is a widely accepted view that laboratory hours and practical or applied courses cannot be implemented effectively enough in the online education. It would be a smart policy to postpone such courses to the following semester, to summer school or to the following year altogether. Hence, the semesters and the order of courses in the training programme should be restructured in the compulsory online education period. The insistence on delivering practical or applied courses online will cause both students and instructors feel inadequate, inefficient or unsuccessful in the teaching and learning process.
4. Learning is largely based on the interaction between student-material, student-instructor and student-student. The more interaction in the learning environment, the greater the student’s need to receive feedback. Whether online courses are held synchronously or asynchronously, feedback activities should be carried out effectively, and students should be given feedback on both their performance and level of comprehension. These feedback sessions can be done individually or as a group. Feedback sessions are more effective in online education than lecture sessions. Although this is the truth, students could not receive enough feedback during the pandemic, which became one of the biggest barriers to learning.
Evaluation and security concerns
5. The biggest problem experienced by higher education institutions in the online education process has been measurement and evaluation, that is “the exams”. Online exams caused a certain degree of validity and reliability problems in addition to security. Unfortunately, assessment and evaluation during the pandemic failed to measure the knowledge and skills of the students. This led to a sense of injustice among students, and lessened their trust in the system.
6. During the online education, it would be more beneficial for students to take predominantly theoretical courses (courses where the course content is mostly based on reading) or elective courses for their cognitive success and mental well-being. For this reason, temporary arrangements should be made in the curriculum to include maximum four courses in a semester, all from these course groups, and complement the other courses in the upcoming semesters. Having ignored this fact throughout the pandemic and made students take 8-9 online courses as if nothing had happened is one of the main reasons why students develop a negative attitude towards online education.
Faculty members and students left alone
7. Faculty members should be assigned teaching assistants in the online education period bot for technical support and assisting in checking the increasing number of assignments to provide feedback to the students. If the number of assistants is insufficient in the department, help must be received from senior students, graduates and professional people. Throughout the pandemic, both faculty members and students have been largely left alone in this regard. This lack of support both decreased the quality of the courses and reduced the impact of instructors in online courses.
As a result, online learning is one of the most successful and efficient models especially for individuals who have self-regulation skills, a perception of self-efficacy and aware of their need for learning as an individual. Although the structure of the content as well as the creativity and technical knowledge of the instructor are decisive in this regard, it is not realistic to expect students to be willing to receive online education due to compulsory reasons such as the recent earthquake.
University education is a period when students form their individual and social identities and share it with their peers, Staying away from the school, and learning from the screen will be the last thing students will want in this period also because university students place more importance on their social and emotional gains beyond cognitive gains due to their age.
For all these reasons, keeping students away from universities and campuses, except when it is absolutely necessary, means turning our back to all scientific facts revealed by educational research.