Nowadays, the internet, the web, has become clearly prominent in academic life. In the context of the current covid-19 pandemic, it has gained even more importance. Indeed, the studies transferred almost completely from face-to-face teaching to online teaching. But is it really a good thing? Is the omnipresence of the web in the studies really positive? If some would argue that the internet was beneficial because it allowed students to advance their studies and teachers to continue their didactic activity, we defend the opposite: for us, it has just been a last resort solution. It allowed the universities to save the day, but it is not a long-term solution and it is now urgent to consider other ways of studying.
First of all, thanks to the internet, students could maintain some contacts with their close friends. But what about their relationships with other students, their peers? If an online lesson works and delivers knowledge, the opportunity of talking with other students and of arguing about a certain topic (while drinking a coffee or at lunch) is nevertheless non-existent. The importance of this parallel life should not be underestimated because it is a powerful way of fixing complex topics and reflexions in our memories. Therefore, the student’s social life was reduced to almost nothing, causing a lack of spontaneity in the learning process. As the students could not create relationships with their fellow students, lessons and academic life became entirely based on content and not on exchanges. Unfortunately, this contradicts a crucial postulate of the social sciences: Lave & Wenger’s “communities of practice”.
Lave and Wenger started with the assumption that learning is situated “in the context of our lived experience of participation in the world [and] is a fundamentally social phenomenon, reflecting our own deeply social nature as human beings capable of knowing”.D. Block (2007). The rise of identity in SLA research, post Firth and Wagner (1997). In The Modern Language Journal, 91.
The absence of academic social exchanges is thus the first and the gravest problem that universities have been confronted with in the past year. Nonetheless, it’s not the only issue. Having talked about the effects on the student’s social life, we have not yet considered the direct consequences of the increase of time spent in front of a screen. Indeed, the students (and the teachers) had to do everything with the computer: attend or give classes, read, write academic papers, learn and search for information. Although some of these aspects are not due to covid-19 (especially reading, writing and searching processes), others are the direct aftereffects of the pandemic (the online classes). This last point is extremely important: online lessons were the way of continuing to deliver content, but how has this content been delivered? Indeed, one should bear in mind that online lessons are not as spontaneous and natural as face-to-face lessons. In a zoom session, students are often embarrassed and do not dare to take the floor. So, troublesome silences have become the rule rather than the exception in certain online-sessions and this unease has had a direct influence on how content has been passed down: there have been less exchanges and a decrease of quality in discussions. Furthermore, we don’t talk about all the technical issues of zoom sessions that can totally discourage the students to follow a course.
Then, there are further consequences caused by the increased use of the internet and more generally by the increased use of the computer. Firstly, it is harmful for the environment (as we consume more energy). Secondly, it leads us to spend more time at home and less time outside; this can lead to become a bit too home-loving and it can create fears of the outside world, resulting in too much time in a sedentary situation. There are people who do not leave their comfort zone anymore and this is problematic because they are no longer prepared for challenges and confrontations (which of course occur in life). This is in connection with the third point: Some people forget that there is a life outside and begin to live in a distorted reality. Fourthly, it is proved that spending too much time in front of a screen can lead to sleep troubles.
In conclusion, the internet and the computer are definitely not a good solution and it is now necessary (after one pandemic year) to find new solutions in universities. In my opinion, there is at least one thing that we could rethink to improve the situation: the didactic concept. I personally spent three and a half years at the University of Basel (Switzerland) and missed team work (especially in the pandemic year). I think it would be necessary to do more team work at the university (in particular nowadays). By rethinking the traditional way of teaching (with lectures and seminars) and by doing for example small face-to-face workshops (maybe always in the same group to limit social contacts), we could definitely boost the academic socialization and create small “communities of practice” that could allow students to know and communicate with their peers. This is of the highest importance because, as Aristotle said: “Man is a social animal.” May the reader be aware of this last sentence! Social. And not virtual …