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When Online Learning Became Adversity Instead of a Blessing: Students’ Experiences

To avoid the spread of the coronavirus, one of the main policies in the world was to close schools. According to UNESCO, more than 1.2 billion students in 182 countries were assigned to study from home in March to May 2020, including more than 68 million students of all levels of education in Indonesia. To let them keep on learning, most campuses and schools implemented online learning through the internet or offline learning conducted using television, radio, modules, textbooks, or worksheets.

Online learning implementation must have created no problem for students in Greater Jakarta in general and high school and college students in particular due to two reasons. First, Greater Jakarta is one of the areas with the best internet network in Indonesia. Thus, students are supposed to have no problem with internet access. Second, Indonesian students’ interest to use ICT is very high. Cambridge International research (2018) showed that, globally, Indonesian students have the highest interest in using computer space (40%) and are at the second-highest rank in desktop computer use (54%) after the US. Also, 67% of Indonesian students use smartphones in class and 81% use them to help to do homework. Indonesian students who use laptops to do homework reached 84%, slightly lower than students in the US (85%). Indonesian students’ high interest in using ICT was also shown by the APJII survey (2018) revealing that almost 65% of Indonesia's population uses the internet. In detail, the survey showed that the percentage of children aged 5-9 years who have used the internet is 25.2%; those aged 10-14 years, 66.2%, adolescents aged 15-19 years, 91%; and residents aged 20-24 years, 88%.

Those statistics indicate that students in Greater Jakarta would find no significant difficulties to learn online when they were assigned to learn from home during the coronavirus pandemic. To see how they went through it, a survey was conducted on 1-7 June 2020. The survey was essentially carried out by students attending the present writer’s Research Methodology class at Universitas Kristen Indonesia Jakarta in the even semester of 2019/2020 Academic year. The survey was assigned as a final group project to complete the course. The data analyzed in this article was part of the data collected by the group surveying the elementary, junior high, senior high, and college students in Greater Jakarta. Since the government still enforced social distancing and health protocols when the data was collected, the students found it very hard to select the sample randomly. To kick the deadline, they employed a convenient sampling technique by inviting participants they could reach through the social media to fill in the online questionnaire using Google Forms.

The respondents participating in the survey were 402 students. Since they consisted of students from various educational levels (primary school to college), the term teacher in this article also includes the lecturer, and the school also includes campus.

Respondents Level of Education
As shown in Figure 1, the 402 respondents were dominated by college students (41%). The other respondents consisted of senior high school students (24%), junior high school students (20%), and elementary school students (15%).

Experience in Online Learning before the Plague
Through their responses to the question of whether they had ever attended class implementing online learning before the pandemic, only 37% of them said “yes”. Thus, almost 2/3 of them had no online learning experience when they were "forced" to learn online due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is quite surprising because the percentage of the respondents having ever attended online learning classes (37%) is smaller than the percentage of the participants who are going to college (41%). That means, not all of the college students participating in this survey had ever got experiences in online learning. Unfortunately, the questionnaire did not collect data concerning the participants' experience in attending online learning by their level of education.  

Learning Tools Employed:
Figure 2 shows that most respondents joined their online learning classes using smartphones (54%), laptops (34%), desktops (8%), and finally iPad or tablets (4%). In practice, using a smartphone for intensive online learning is disadvantageous due to its limited screen width. The high use of smartphones, however, was most likely because this device is the one the majority of the respondents could get for online learning. Most of them probably could not afford desktop or laptop, but, as Cambridge International’s (2018) finding revealed, Indonesian students’ level of smartphone use is very high.
Media / Platform used
Figure 3 shows that 26% of respondents were facilitated by their teachers to learn by using a learning management system (LMS), either the one owned by schools or one of the open-source software on the internet. Other respondents (29%) did learning through WhatsApp (WA) combined with various media or other programs (zoom, hangout, email, YouTube, etc.); 20% use WA plus 1 other program; and 25% use only WA.

This finding indicates that most of the teachers did not appropriately design their online classes. It is also possible that most of them had no idea how to prepare and implement an online learning course. Just like the traditional face to face class, online learning needs a space in which the curriculum, content, media, activities, quizzes are integrated. The best option to provide the space is an LMS. A teacher who has the skills to design and implement online learning must certainly know the internet provides many free LMSs. He or she can choose the most appropriate one for his/her online classes.

Communication with Teachers and Classmates
The communication of the respondents with their teachers in online learning seems very inadequate. Figure 4 reveals that only 41% of the respondents always or frequently communicated with their teacher; 33% rarely communicated with their teachers; 26% never communicated at all. Communication with classmates was a little more intensive than with the teacher. More than half (58%) of the respondents always or frequently communicated with their classmates; 25%, rarely; and 17%, never.
Pardede (2020) argued that communication, through which feedback is provided, is very essential to optimize online learning. Feedback does not only diminish students’ loneliness, but also reduce the difficulty to focus, and overcome the trouble to engage. It also enhances learning achievement and promotes the 4Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. In line with this, Su et al reported that students’ interaction with the teacher and classmates is a key factor in quality online learning programs. Therefore, communication limitation is very advantageous in online learning.
As shown in Figure 5, the majority of the respondents (56%) stated the main obstacle they encountered is the difficulty to discuss with the teachers. This is closely related to the findings in Figure 4 which revealed only 41% of the respondents who always or often communicated with their teacher. Their lack of communication hampered discussion, the obstruction of discussion hindered feedback, and the loss of feedback made learning doomed to failure.
The second major obstacle, according to respondents, is the ineffectiveness of the media or platforms employed. The findings presented in Figure 3 show that only 26% of the respondents were facilitated to learn by using a learning management system (LMS). As stated earlier, online learning requires an LMS to substitute the four wall classroom in face-to-face learning. The LMS functions as a library, archives storage, and the place for discussion. In the LMS, all materials, media, interactions, and class guides can be integrated. Because the majority of the respondents were only facilitated to use WhatsApp with or without the support of various other media/software, the online learning content, media, and activities became sporadic and unintegrated.
Figure 5. Obstacles Encountered (n= 402)
Why did most of the online learning courses during the COVID 19 pandemic not use LMS? Possibly, this was caused by two one or both of the following. First, since the pandemic came so suddenly, schools and teachers could not make appropriate preparations to implement online learning. second, most teachers had no ideas and skills to design and organize online learning courses.
The next obstacle encountered by the respondents is that they were instructed to do too many assignments. More than half ( 51%) of the respondents said their teachers asked them to do too much homework. This is essentially related to the teachers’ lack of skills of teachers to implement online learning. Since they had no idea what to do, many of them simply asked their students to read, summarize, or do exercises or projects. This finding clarifies students’ complaints received by KPAI (the Indonesian Commission for Children Protection) about the implementation of online learning during the COVID 19 pandemic. The complaints indicated that for students, online learning is boring, tiring, and ineffective.
As many as 42% of the respondents viewed the difficulty to communicate with classmates is the fourth main obstacle. This is related to the fact that giving and receiving feedback does not only occur through interaction with the teacher but also with friends. In the context of learning among senior high school and college students, giving and receiving feedback with friends is sometimes more effective than with teachers. Pardede (2020) explains that teachers’ feedback tends to be accepted by students without question teachers are considered as 'experts'. As a result, teacher feedback often immediately ends a discussion. Conversely, feedback from friends is still very likely to be questioned and clarified, and this will make collaborative learning develops.
Teachers’ lack of skills to design and implement online learning, limitation of the infrastructure (internet) and equipment available, and the students’ lack of experience in attending and participating in online learning made most students in Greater Jakarta unable to learn effectively through the online learning implementation during the COVID 19 pandemic. As a consequence, rather than becoming a blessing, online learning was adversity.
With or without the COVID 19 pandemic, the use of technology through online learning is essentially needed to equip students with the skills required in the Industrial 4.0 era. Since, as revealed in the discussion above, the adversities emerged in the online learning implementation were not due to the nature of the learning method but the poor preparation of teachers and the infrastructure and tools inadequacy, online learning has a great potential to use to provide quality learning for Indonesia students. To transform the potentials into reality, the government should commit to improve the internet quality and affordability and facilitate teachers to develop their skills for designing and implementing online learning. *****


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