There is a considerable shift in everyday activities to the internet most especially amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria and several universities in Nigeria have adopted the use of numerous technologies in virtual classes.
A survey was done by AllNews from a university in Nigeria -- the University of Ilorin.
The research is centralised on the undergraduate level of the above tertiary institution -- between students and lecturers about their experiences, difficulties, ups and downs, inferences, and most especially the use of virtual learning in the post-COVID-19 period.
The department of research is Microbiology at the University of Ilorin is:
The department is crucial to this research given the peculiarity of the virus to the course -- as it falls in the group known as "microbes".
Enough information about COVID-19 has been made known by the World Health Organization and the local NCDC, so this piece is not much about sensitization of the coronavirus but more on how virtual learning is becoming the new norm in Nigeria's educational eco-system.
The representation from the Department of Microbiology is Dr. (Mrs) Aminat Ahmed El-Imam.
She completed her Ph.D. at Nottingham University, United Kingdom, and has been an academic for more than 7 years.
Dr. El-Imam is also the academic adviser for the 100lvl student at the University.
Her specialty in Microbiology includes Food and Industrial Microbiology -- which includes micro-organisms that are helpful to humans.
Watch the video below:
As a Microbiologist, and as a Doctor of Microbiology, what is your take on the present pandemic in Nigeria?
"There is never a good time for a pandemic, and Nigeria is feeling the 'pinch' of the virus. The added socio-economic burden of the pandemic is tough on us.
The virus is not as fatal compared to the Ebola virus, but it is a virus that has literally...changed the world forever and specifically in Nigeria.
Resumption of physical learning of the final year students at the University of Ilorin?
"Am a bit nervous and anxious, but they need to come in to wrap up their projects which they have started and quite advanced. It is one of the worst things for me in my profession.
It is also a challenge for me and my students because they have started their projects before the COVID-19 enforced lockdown.
If you know Microbiology, it is very expensive to carry out research, one of the most expensive life science fields.
My poor students and I had worked for 10 hours a day for several weeks and now everything has gone into dust.
Yeah, they do need to come in, and that would be challenging because the COVID-19 is still here, a sizeable number has not yet been vaccinated.
The reaction of students, if they do come in, will be yet another challenge as after over 7 months of not seeing, they would want to hug, embrace, and a simple Hi would not cut it.
"The University is looking at phase resumption but the details of it are not mine to disclose but the Institution will do all they can keep both students and Academics safe".
Are the final year student specifically in Microbiology going to start their project all over again as a project supervisor?
"Project supervisors are usually seen as a demi-god" but they are not, as they are also bound by the rules of the University and especially the Nigeria University Commission".
We don't get to say go and start again, bring money and you good".
We even pay for much of the projects the student do, I speak for many lecturers when I say if it has affected their project, it has affected us too."
It is our aim to help work out a way to see the student live up to the standard of a university project, "worthy of publishing", and ten years down the line, they can be proud of their work.
How has virtual learning proved that it is the new norm?
"Virtual learning is the future", Dr. El-Imam said.
I was privileged to have done my Ph.D. in the United Kingdom where we use this means in learning.
"The beauty of online learning is that you can learn outside your immediate environment".
If you are stuck in a rural area but you have an internet connection, you can take classes in Havard, Oxford. So virtual learning is here to stay," she emphasized.
"Virtual learning has its challenges, but the same goes for physical learning and with the pandemic, the risk of transmission with online learning is 0.00%."
No Personal protective equipment (PPE) can guarantee that level of protection.
The Nigerian Universities have always had issues with infrastructures but online learning could just be the saviour we need.
For me, when you look at cost of transportation, feeding, housing, hassles for both lecturers and students alike, online learning is actually great.
There are challenges with virtual learning, but these are teething problems that should be resolved with time.
So far, that Online Learning has started at your University, how has it been?
"I have taken online classes and it has been interesting because for many students that were their first experience".
But you just need to be patient as they would figure it out, this generation was born with a phone in their hands.
The experiences of Lecturers and students have all applauded the initiative from the University.
Though some students can be inappropriate as they give compliments during the classes such as "Madam you are fine" but with online learning, it has been "less intrusive, less invasive".
Psychologically, do you still feel prepared for a class or to take a class?
It is said that "the illiterates of this century are not those you can not read and write but those can not learn, unlearn and re-learn".
None of us is born with markers in our hands, we learned it.
"If you come from a savvy organization like mine, we have had internet for decades and it was seamless for us to adapt to the new system".
Psychologically, do the students still learn at the same rate?
"That remains to be seen, I think is a little premature to say that -- until the results of assessment come in, we cannot say empirically if virtual learning has been able to measure up to physical learning.
In my opinion, what makes you a great lecturer is to ensure that your message was received, your students have learned.
Regardless of the channel of instruction, any good lecturer should ensure that their students have learned.
How do students learn? Students learn in various ways......Some are better suited for online learning.
Some students have been underperforming for the past 3 years due to heat and cramp spaces, social disorders, and a loud environment.
For even those who find it new, they will adapt because education is a choice".
The scientific aspect of teaching, the practicals, how will it be?
"It would not be easy". Dr. El-Imam admitted.
This is because Microbiology in an ideal setting should be more practical and less theory.
There is no way you will not miss out when actually practicals are done, "we cannot culture by zoom, polymerase chain reaction on zoom."
Then we have an alternative to practical, nobody chose this, the situation chose us, so instead of "crying over spilled milk", we can make the best of the situation.
The Universities are seriously considering practical lessons in Microbiology and other sciences but am not speaking for management as they would release the information when that time comes.
Nigerian universities are the masters and mistresses of making the best from the worst situation.
What alternatives do you have when power fails, Wi-fi downtime during classes? Or are there other incentives for virtual learning?
"The university I work for has a large internet penetration on campus almost all lecturers have easy access to the internet".
What happens if power fails? if you are lucky there is another section of the university where there is light, "you run like crazy" there and continue the class
If there is wi-fi downtime? when this happens, we switch to our personal data. 'it is the life we chose, it is who we are".
On the Incentives? we don't need to get incentives for our work, there are cases where lecturers teach for months without salary so what is a few gigs of our personal data to help graduate the future of Nigeria."
What do you do during classes to reduce inappropriate compliments, or at least maintain a level of decorum?
"We hope for the best'. You can mute everybody in the class.
But if you teach as I do, you would need to unmute at some point to get feedback.
Students generally are good but if you get a stubborn one you take it in "your stride".
About the vaccines, Is it possible?
Yes, there are vaccines....there is a Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine.
These vaccines have shown different levels of immunogenicity, and again the vaccines go where the money is, where the power is.
Can Nigerians produce the vaccines?
Well, it is possible, but it is like putting "the cart before the horse".
Vaccine production is at the apex of biological research if funding, equipment, and personnel are available.
Since these vaccines are made somewhere else will they be fit for Nigerians and priorities who should be given?
Every nation has its own growth and target, they will figure out the priority and focus on it.
The research will not be complete without hearing from the students who are also other stakeholders in the educational flow. Their input in the whole discussion is crucial as they would be the end product of the art of teaching.
A student from the Department of Microbiology was selected and she would not be mentioned as she asked to remain anonymous.
She is a 400 level student of the institution -- currently writing her project and looking at graduation in months to come.
What is your view about virtual learning especially as an alternative in this COVID-19 period?
I think it is the way forward, it is the new normal -- Students cannot be expected to just stay at home because we want to keep social distance, it has its own challenges but at least people (Students) are not kept at the same spot they were a year ago.
How has your school been able to maximize virtual learning, especially in your school?
Well, the ASUU strike reduced the opportunities for my school to maximize virtual learning, but other schools that I know of used virtual learning for convocation.
The vast majority of students were kept on a spot level-wise in my university and they couldn't do much since the ASUU strike kept lecturers from working.
The first week of the virtual learning, was more of a prototype -- deciding the best app to use, trying to figure out how to use it, and the app with the highest capacity.
For example, the first zoom app downloaded was the free version with a 100-participant capacity, and some courses are taken by over 300 students. So some students were unable to join the class, with feedback of "maximum capacity reached".
Subsequently, the University got the paid version with over 2,000 capacity at once so, the school adapted to it and so did the student.
The lecturers in my department were really good at using slides in explaining even calculations -- so I believe virtual learning can work as they continue to adapt day after day.
To be honest, it is not as serious as in the class, sometimes a distraction from the hostel, roommate, and you could be multitasking as if you listening to a podcast (laughs). You can be in the class, then you see a message pop up from WhatsApp, Twitter and you want to check it out then return to the class.
So it hasn't been easy, there was even a time a class is on, and someone's mic was on, maybe by mistake, the person was in the market buying things.
But as the week goes by, it gets more serious, no lecturer is going back and exams would be set from these lessons so personally, recently I have been more serious, I use my earphone to listen and take notes while in class.
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