By Syeda Aiman Zehra
When the pandemic forced classes to go online, Maha Zainab Saeed ‘22 found herself in a crisis. A family member was battling cancer. Her work life included two stressful jobs. Her courses were approaching exam season and here was a 2000 word “Anthropology of Energy” midterm paper that asked for her undivided attention. “I was about to have a nervous breakdown,” Saeed told The Post.
She approached her instructor, Professor Priya Sajjad, who immediately set up a Zoom call to hear her troubles. Saeed expressed gratitude at this response: “Would you believe it? She divided those 2000 words by 5 and asked me to send a part every day for feedback… So every day, I would take out 15 minutes just to write that small part.”
Saeed’s experience is one of many unique student struggles that took place this spring. While grievances about online education have been voiced multiple times, there are also those in the student body who have found comfort in faculty efforts to advance learning empathetically.
Anum Shah ‘20 found her “Religion and Existentialism” instructor, Professor Nauman Faizi creating the same collaborative spirit that his physical classrooms emulated through online features. “Students got to interact with each other, and Sir also interacted with us in different capacities. He was not only teaching; he was also involved in a discussion,” said Shah. These conversations took place in breakout rooms* over videos shown in class that served two purposes. The first: ability to apply learned tools for thinking critically. The second: “We were able to talk about our lives through them. We felt heard and involved.”
On assignments, Shah said: “Both Dr. Nauman and Dr. Hassan [Professor Hassan Karar] stressed on it continuously that it is okay if we don’t reach our best potential.”
Shah added that Karar shortened his lectures from 1 hour 50 minutes to 40 minutes to sustain focus. “By the time attention started getting diverted, the lecture would end.”
Where many hailing from MGSHSS preferred live lessons, a number of students from SDSB and SBASSE expressed that real compassion lied in creating choices for them.
“Sir [Professor Zafar Qazi] would upload recorded lectures at the start of the week and hold a live question and answer session at the end of it,” said Zafir Ansari ‘22 on his course, “Network and Computing.”
Ansari explained why this pleased his learning quirks: “I used to ask many questions [before the pandemic]. During online lectures, some instructors would entertain questions only towards the end. That defeats the purpose of understanding a concept while it is being explained.” With recorded lectures, one could pause, do a quick Google search for clarity, and continue on.
Muhammad Faraz Karim ‘22 held immense respect for instructors breaking online barriers of monotonous, isolated learning by opting for more raw and authentic teaching process. About Qazi, he said, “Sir used a stylus tool to provide visual drawings that helped understand concepts, especially those based on logic.”
Professor Mian Awais of “Artificial Intelligence” chose a similar method. “He didn’t have a stylus or an iPad. He shortened his lectures, uploaded them online, and used a pen and paper to deliver difficult concepts,” Karim told The Post.
When asked about class preferences, Karim decided to show rather than tell. He shared his screen on Zoom and pulled up Professor Qazi’s lecture on Youtube. His cursor circled around the playlist titled “Network-Centric Computing.” Underneath, videos were ordered as “Lecture 16 Part 1” and so on. “The best thing about recorded lectures is the archive that becomes available to us,” he said.
Some students pointed out that it was easy to zone out where attendance wasn’t mandatory. Hasma Ahmed ‘22 stressed on the need for some form of obligation from the students by giving the example of her “Introduction to Game Theory” class. “Sir Hasnain Faateh would hold take home and weekly quizzes so even if you weren’t attending class, you still had to review the resources to attempt those.”
Most students were apprehensive about the ease of cheating. Shaheryar Hussain ‘22 expressed praise for his “Statistics and Data Analysis” instructor, Professor Usman Elahi, with regards to this. “He molded every question according to your roll number so no one had the same answer. This was perhaps the only course in which my learning did not get compromised due to the circumstances I was facing.”
To understand the thought processes in motion at the other end of the classroom that led to viable methodologies, The Post reached out to some instructors on their concerns and subsequent responses.
For Faizi, retaining the dramatic learning arc of his classes that provoked critical thought and questions in students was the biggest priority. “A physical class allows them to shut off the world and think with the material. Now, a porous environment comes with the screen, a shared space. So, I keep thinking of how to create a focused one,” he said. The breakout room helps him create a pocket within that noise where students can share a “mental space.”
Qazi recognized the significance of asking questions for students in his computer science courses. To maintain a two-way communication, he used an online tool, Campuswire, where students could post their queries if the live session wasn’t enough. “Over the course of the semester, more than a thousand questions were answered. This is unbelievable! And some of those questions were answered by the students themselves,” he remarked.
Qazi raised another concern he had: “How will students know how long to wait in the waiting room for office hours?” He found the solution in Berkeley’s use of an online queuing system designed by Okpy** that sends messages to students when their turn is upcoming.
With the news of fall being online, students across batches and schools are worried about learning standards and look eagerly towards instructors for similar patterns of empathy in teaching. The Pedagogical Partnership Program, an initiative taken by LUMS Learning Institute (LLI), lends hope to these expectations. “This is a student-teacher collaboration [over course designing and research] where authority and autonomy will lie with the student partner too,” said Fatima Iftikhar, program co-lead.
On COVID-19 threatening to put launch plans on hold, Iftikhar told The Post: “Dr. Suleman Shahid [Director LLI] pushed for it. He said it’s even more important now that instructors will be redesigning their courses in the summers…student experiences will help bring critical feedback on teaching techniques.”
Many classes saw developments in these techniques reaching a standstill up until the pandemic hit in March. Now, students recognize that room has been created for continuous and constructive dialogue on pedagogy that they anticipate will help instructors build a better class experience.
*A feature on Zoom that breaks the class into different rooms with smaller groups.