The Realities of Online Learning during a Pandemic

The Realities of Online Learning during a Pandemic

As a Second Year Undergraduate, I have had an interesting university experience so far. I missed half of the first semester due to surgery and then my first year was cut short in the beginning of March due to the first lockdown in the United Kingdom, so off I went home to complete the rest of my lectures that had been pre-recorded for the semester.  

After Easter, exam season was supposed to be in full swing but exam dates were pushed back three times due to sorting out how they were going to work and what software we were going to use. In the end, the exams were on our VLE (virtual learning environment) platform and were made open book due to Lecturers saying "We cannot monitor you, so to be safe, exams are now open book."

Completing my exams at my kitchen table, drinking coffee / eating breakfast and wrapped in a blanket was a surreal experience and in comparison to my Sixth-Form and Secondary School exams that were stress-sickness inducing, my grades from Uni exams were better. However, whether that is to do with environment or actually knowing the content? A mystery to me.

Online learning appears to work, there are online courses, open university has been a thing for a while, so why would moving University online be an issue? 

I can only speak from my experience, but here is a run down of how going back to University in September was supposed to go:

  • Hybrid Learning
    • 1 hour pre-recorded lecture
    • 1 hour hybrid (some students in-person on campus and the rest of us online through Microsoft Teams)
    • Essential / Recommended Reading
    • Weekly quizzes
    • Online workshop / seminar
    • Being on a rota to be able to go on campus for education
    • Full normal support on assignments 

Quite a simple plan I thought, and one that I believed would work. At first, when it was announced that we would have a rota for when we were to be on campus I thought it would be "week 1 - A-C, week 2 - D-G..." or "Tutor Group A, B, C -W1..." but instead, every module had a different rota. This meant with my timetable I could be on Campus for one lecture, then 15 minutes later supposed to be online for my next lecture, which didn't work for me as I live 30 - 40 minute walk away from the Campus and you were not really meant to use the library without prior booking and then second lockdown hit meaning that you could not sit in a café to work. 

I am at the end of week 10 now, and including week 11 & 12 I have been on the on-campus rota 7 times but due to my timetable, only been able to be on campus 6 times. This meant I was either at my kitchen table or in my bedroom most days with my headphones on listening to lectures and not seeing my friends from my course. 

Personally, I found it really hard to concentrate during lectures when I was not in the lecture theatre. I could go make myself lunch, make a coffee, scroll through social media, talk to my family on skype or even read a book. All these distractions meant you had to be really strict with yourself in terms of managing distractions especially when you were not interested in the content, such as, a lecture about ears... 

In terms of the hybrid learning, as well as the live lectures, we had pre-recorded content that was supposed to be watched before you turned up to the live session. I really liked the content as it meant that I could take notes at my own pace and not feel rushed. On the other hand, instead of dedicating 2 hours to the lecture for that week in one day, it meant one day you could spend 1 hour 30 mins on a pre-record then sit through an hour of Live content another day so all module content was all over the place in my memory. 

Also with pre-recorded content, a lot of students are playing catch up as assignment season started and the pre-live lecture stuff seemed to drop down the priority list; however, lecturers still got annoyed at the lack of interaction with the pre-recorded lectures even though we had made it clear that we thought attention to our assignments came first.

One day I had an in-person but 15 minutes later I was supposed to be online. My friends and I all could not make it home for the online session, so we stayed on campus for the session we were not rota'd for. When we arrived to the lecture theatre no one else was in there except for the lecturer. I understand that due to the current pandemic that we're all living through that students may be wary of coming onto campus but for no one to turn up to a lecture in person... a little bit annoying for those who would prefer to be in-person. 

Now, with live lectures, you could sit typing notes and not have to talk at all, mic and camera off. However, workshops and seminars mean discussion and for this... one seminar springs to mind immediately. Last week (week 9) I had my penultimate Social Psychology seminar, we watched a clip from the TV show 'Community' - highly recommend - and then we were to discuss between us on how we would improve the study shown in the clip before feeding back to our Lecturer. I like class discussions, bouncing ideas off of each other and in the discussion without the lecturer, 4 out of 12 of us were putting ideas in the chat function but when it came to the main bit, I was the only one who unmuted my mic and actually spoke to our Lecturer. One other person was typing in the chat but was not being 100% clear so it meant I was answering. I found it sad that no one else spoke up and made me feel a bit silly as we can't see anyone else in the seminar as cameras had to be switched off. 

Group work was also a struggle as we were allocated to groups, so the likelihood of knowing someone in your group was slim. In my experience this semester, group work was fine to an extent as two others in my group showed consistently so that we could complete the work needed to carry out our independent research assignment. Nevertheless, a couple of people in my group I have never met and still not spoken to due to them not turning up at all - luckily we will not be penalised for having less data due to that. 

Online learning has half-worked for me. I feel quite disconnected and not having the same level of support. I have not been able to socialise properly outside of my household and unlike last year, I have not been home at all so have missed my cat a lot (& family of course.) I cannot wait to get home for Christmas and be with family.

Overall, the semester has not been THAT bad; I still have had my lectures and assignments but university is supposed to be much more than that. The social side of actually seeing people outside of your household was missing. Societies could not run as usual. A second lockdown started, no going home to see family or going out to study in a café, or going to the gym. All of that part of life, that keeps you sane was gone and this feeling of isolation really set in I think for many people. 

I may seem like I'm repeating myself but that's how this semester feels and paying £9,250 + all living expenses to sit at my laptop all day and not really have an excuse to leave the house except for the food shop, is not really helping. 

There have been petitions and more petitions to try and help uni students out in this time but nothing seems to really making a dent in the Education section of the Government. If students about 8-10 years ago could go to University paying less why do the fees for us keep rising. 

This post sounds like a massive complaining session but I still enjoy University and have enjoyed most of what I have learnt over the past year and a half. Here is to hoping that the rest of my Second Year is a little bit brighter! 

Stay Safe!



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