When college first shut down on March 14th, many expected to get back to college by June at the latest. But as COVID-19 ravaged the planet, and India went through multiple lockdowns, it started becoming evident that reopening by June was practically impossible. Accordingly, we happened to complete the rest of the even semester virtually, while the Batch of 2020 bid goodbye to NITK through Zoom and other video conferencing platforms.

In those early days of June, there was still hope that the odd semester would be on campus. Sadly, with coronavirus cases on the rise, that hope was premature. Our fate was all but sealed when the college authorities soon rolled out a survey to obtain feedback regarding the effectiveness of e-learning.

With each passing day, the prospect of a virtual odd semester looms overhead. But what will it really be like?

A virtual semester will be spent in the comfort of our homes, giving us the opportunity to spend more quality time with our families. Dealing the monotony of mess food and the wonderful hostel toilets will no longer be an issue. The shift online will also lead to a lot of paper and other resources being conserved. 

Due to the lack of widespread access to a good internet connection among the diverse student body of NITK, it is highly likely that the mode of teaching will be pre recorded lectures, rather than live video classrooms. This would be a great boon to students as these lectures can not only be viewed at their convenience but will also be concise and can be viewed multiple number of times in case any concept isn’t clear. Having said that, teacher-student interactions will decrease, which will be a great loss for the student community. Clearing doubts quickly might prove difficult as well.

Since conducting regular online tests puts those without stable internet connections at an unfair disadvantage, assignments might become the go-to method of assessment. These assignments will be as personalised as possible, and could also be group assignments where each member will be allotted a specific portion that they would have to complete. However, MTech and PhD students might find it hard to complete their course requirements as there are no theory subjects in their upcoming semesters and most of their work demands the use of labs.

Mid and end semester exams will be challenging to conduct, as writing long, descriptive papers with a strict time constraint might prove to be difficult in a home environment. Presenting a clear and concise course and evaluation plan at the beginning of the semester will go a great way in alleviating all sorts of anxiety and scepticism that students might face, provided there is enough flexibility for students who face internet issues.

The absence of a strict 8-5 class schedule frees up valuable time, which can be utilised to undertake online courses both technical and non technical, prepare for competitive exams and so on. This newfound freedom can also be used to discover new interests and further explore old hobbies, bringing out different aspects of our personalities that were previously unknown. It could also see a rise in students taking up remote internships throughout the year, in order to enhance their technical and business skills.

Extra curricular activities will certainly undergo changes. While sports and other physical activities will be put on hold for this semester, most events conducted by student run clubs will see a shift online, with an increase in webinars, workshops and virtual hackathons. There is also great scope for increased interaction with our vast alumni network, as the usual barrier faced – inability of alumni spread all over the world to physically come to campus – is no longer present. The annual technical fest Engineer will most likely be postponed to the even semester, and possibly combined with the cultural fest Incident in order to have one techno-cultural fest. However, owing to the limitations of online media, these activities could eventually get monotonous, which will certainly affect participation (The onus will certainly be on clubs to innovate in this regard).

The traditional placement and internship season is sure to take a hit, as companies all over the world struggle to cope with the crippling effects of the pandemic and the recession it has caused. However, the Career and Development Centre (CDC) is working day and night to mitigate these factors, and ensure that the placement process will be as normal as possible. We could see an increase in even semester placements and internship offers.

In the long term, multiple problems can arise. Being cooped up at home might increase incidences of anxiety and other mental health issues, which makes being aware of and destigmatizing these issues all the more important. Self motivation will prove crucial in order to get work done, which will be hard to muster given the circumstances. Using electronic devices continuously over long stretches, which is almost unavoidable now, could prove detrimental to our health, so remembering to take a break from our phones every now and then would prove helpful.

The shift to the virtual mode has forced us all into bubbles of our own, with only close circles of friends and a few others being let in. It has certainly created a void in most of us that only returning to college can fill. Our beautiful campus and its breathtaking charm, the long calming walks to and on the beach, ordering food at midnight from the Night Canteens, watching all the performances and movies screened at the SJA, and visiting Red Rock, Bourbon and all the other eateries around campus are only few of the many things we will sorely miss. All the things we took for granted when we were on campus – like walking into a friend’s room at any time of the day (or night) and striking up a conversation on the most random topic you could think of – can now only be cherished once we reunite in college. Nostalgia will be our only solace till that day.

However, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise we must be grateful that we can shelter in the comfort of our homes when so many of our fellow Indians cannot. The best way we can help combat the virus on an individual level is to step outside only when absolutely necessary, and to maintain physical distancing and personal hygiene when we do step out, as well as urging everyone we know to do the same. We must play our part if we hope to at least have the even semester on campus.
This predicament has forced us to rethink what we previously took for granted, and helped us realise what truly matters. All we can do now is play the hand we’ve been dealt and hope for the best.

It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed.