For the Greater Good
By Han Hee Jang Staff Reporter
With the start of the semester delayed by two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, most universities have turned to online platforms to conduct lectures. KAIST is no exception. Students in KAIST enjoyed the period of “freedom” initially given, but were expectantly waiting for things to return to normal after two weeks. However, these expectations were let down when rumors spread about the whole semester going online and the closure of KAIST dormitories. These rumors spread across group chats like wildfire, leaving students dumbfounded. After a day of confusion, the KAIST administration released an official statement on March 13, confirming and elaborating on the decision. While many criticized the administration for the abrupt decision, I believe it is something that is necessary to contain the epidemic.
The administration’s recent decisions have inevitably sacrificed many aspects that define KAIST, such as the quality of education it provides and an environment conducive for students to focus on their academics. However, the characteristics of KAIST were what made this decision inevitable. KAIST dormitories usually have two or more people living in a room, making it easy for the virus spread. Not only that, sometimes the hygiene of those rooms are compromised due to the lack of intensive cleaning, making students vulnerable to respiratory diseases such as COVID-19. Thus, the decision to limit dormitory residence seems to be unavoidable. It’s just that this decision, like any other, had to prioritize one value over another. In this case, the school valued public safety over individual freedom and convenience.
The news of this decision was surely shocking as students were expecting a new beginning to their campus life after a long break, especially with the return of spring cherry blossom and all its heartwarming connotations. Especially for the class of 2020, the current state of affairs is disappointing. Those eager to learn may also feel let down that they have to sit in front of their computers all day. In summary, our chance to enjoy a normal semester was compromised — while we still retain all the workload responsibilities. However, although the tendency for individualism is getting more evident in modern society, it would be undeniably ignorant to disregard the need for social responsibility. Cases of super spreaders and disregard for others are among the reasons why COVID-19 has become a global issue. The sacrifice of individual freedom in exchange for safety is the inherent concept of law and order.
And it’s not like there is much to complain about in the end, because the administration was swift to modify their policies to meet the needs of the student body. There were many possible points of conflict between the students and the administration, since the decisions were made at such short notice. Even before students’ feedback, systematic support was prepared for those who need to leave the dormitories by paying for transports. Although not every consequence of the decision was considered, with the cooperation of the KAIST Undergraduate Association (UA), the policies were molded in students’ favor.
The real problem is the actual execution of certain policies, such as the banning of visitors and refunds of dorm fees that remain problematic. The next few weeks will have the highest number of outsiders visiting KAIST to view the blossoms, and there is no real way to distinguish or stop the outsiders from entering campus. Many visitors are still wandering around even after the ban, and the school needs to find a way to keep their word.
The Realities of Online Education
By Jaymee Palma Assistant Editor
The campus is eerily quiet as the new semester begins. The start of a semester has always been marked by the hourly rush after every class period, bustling cafeterias with long lines, and the collective energy of new beginnings; the sudden silence and emptiness feels shocking, especially to those still living on campus. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered people’s lives all around the world, and KAIST students are not exempt.
When the school first announced that it will begin the semester with online classes, there were mixed reactions and a lot of questions. While some were relieved about how the measures taken seriously address the growing coronavirus outbreak, others worried that such a system would not be conducive to learning. There were many debates on KaDaeJeon and Here at KAIST; one prominent sentiment was that online learning cannot be a good alternative to in-person lectures. After all, asking questions and meeting professors in real life is an integral part of learning. The question of how classes that require discussion, laboratory classes, and physical education classes would proceed was usually brought up. Some even went as far as to suggest the cancellation of the entire semester, which quickly ignited arguments from students who need to graduate on time.
Two weeks into classes at “KAIST Online University”, professors and students are starting to find their footing in the strange new world of online education. Classes taken remotely in dorm rooms or bedrooms have become the new normal, and most of our lives as students have been moved exclusively online. However, many of our classes still have major technical issues. Lecture videos in KLMS in particular have frustrated many as buffering problems continue to arise; some students spend twice as long waiting for the video to load than actually listening to the lecture. Most KAIST students now have at least one Zoom anecdote to tell future generations: stories of forgotten unmuted mics, taking classes in pajamas, and professors suddenly disappearing due to connection problems.
Although there have been many speed bumps along the way, the benefits of online education are undeniable. Taking classes from a single location is time-saving, since running from one end of the campus to another is no longer necessary. In non-real time classes, many are finding the ability to play back lectures to be helpful in understanding difficult concepts. Students become more attentive and active in Zoom classes, as everyone gets a front-row seat to lectures and discussions. Although it is no substitute for human interaction, the innovative use of technology in lecturing and learning has been effective in making education more convenient.
There is still much uncertainty about how the semester will proceed as schedules continue to shift and problems with the current system emerge. Laboratory classes in some departments are still on hold until the semester proceeds as normal; questions about when and how midterms and finals will be held continue to haunt everyone; online systems such as KLMS are overloaded; and international students in their home countries struggle with attending real-time classes that are held at unreasonable hours in their local time zones. All these should be addressed urgently if students and professors are expected to continue living and working online until further notice.
In a university where months and years tend to blur together, the 2020 Spring semester will surely be a memorable experience for everyone at KAIST. It is part of the world’s biggest experiment with a new style of education — the first in over a hundred years. Maybe after all this is over, disruptive technology will become a permanent fixture in education and learning.