Due to COVID-19, online university has become the new norm, but how do students really feel about working from home? A demographic arguably completely ignored by the government in this global crisis, have been left to fend for themselves, but it is really as bad as it seems?
Like many students I miss how things were prior to Coronavirus. Attending lectures may have seemed like a drag at points, but now any excuse to leave the house is welcome. Going to the library with friends and working for hours together, was a lot better than being sat in your bedroom alone. As Sheffield shifted into tier three, mixing households and creating study groups became virtually impossible, further isolating students. Sheffield University has tried its hardest to keep things ‘normal’ with in person seminars, but even they feel extremely dystopian with everyone sat so far apart wearing masks. It takes a lot of adjusting and accepting that this is the ‘new normal’, when in reality nothing about this feels normal for anyone. Speaking to Maddie Patrick, a third year English Literature student, it was interesting to hear how she finds online uni less distressing, ‘I actually prefer online seminars to in person, because they [face to face seminars post COVID-19] feel so distant and dystopian’.
COVID-19 has impacted different students to varying extents. The absence of face-to-face university is more than a little change for many courses, such as architecture, media/production, the arts or subjects with lab sessions to name a few. The unpredictable nature of the pandemic makes it difficult for departments to formulate a plan of action, as the government is enforcing new measures all the time. The updated systems university staff members worked hard to put in place to allow things to carry on best they can, have to be altered regularly to fit the ever changing guidelines; evident from the choice to suspend face-to-face teaching for two weeks from the 7th of October to the 19th at the University of Sheffield.
It is hard to stay positive currently, especially as Sheffield since entered tier three, further reducing social interactions. Although, there are some benefits to online learning which are important to be aware of to make the best of this strange situation.
For courses with more content based lectures like Maths and Economics, the online lectures have been helpful according to Megan Smith, a second year Economics student; ‘I have to actually learn new concepts and take in information on my course, for that reason I much prefer online uni because I can pause the lectures and try and understand the content before it moves on, in real time it goes way too fast’
Similar to Megan, I found as an English Literature student, being able to pause and copy down quotes or points off the lecture slides is useful. It is easier to properly get to grips with content with lectures being online, which puts you in a better position going into a tutorial or seminar. As Maddie Patrick touched on, the online element allows you to focus on the task at hand, as some people may find the environment of an in person socially distanced seminar distracting due to it’s dystopian feel.
The online element of uni does make it more accessible for many people, for example students that live in other countries may not have to stray so far from family members, as well as students that commute from other cities are able to save money and work from home. People that might feel nervous contributing vocally in a seminar may find it easier to contribute virtually and consequently may be getting more out of the sessions.
Despite this, not everyone is finding it easy. More practical, hands on courses with studio sessions and lab classes such as art subjects, and Engineering, have been hit a lot harder than most when forced to go online.
‘I don’t have access to loads of resources, if I do a drawing I can’t actually scan it in so its digital, I have to take a photo of it and then its really bad quality. I can’t trace anything, which is really difficult. My housemate has just bought a graphics tablet for one hundred and eighty pounds just so he can trace’ – Patrick Gurmin, third year Architecture student.
For courses such as Architecture it is difficult to produce work of the same standard as previous years, even more so if you do not have the funds to invest in the right equipment to make things easier in a remote setting. University is about everyone having equal opportunities and access to the same resources, which is clearly not possible anymore with most of the uni buildings being closed or open on reduced hours with limiting regulations. It is completely understandable that the university has to take these precautions and make such difficult decisions, but the way it impacts different courses to varied degrees is something that may need to be talked about more.
Finding the motivation to create work you are proud of becomes increasingly difficult when it feels as though you have no career prospects on the other side, due to the nature of the current job market and the limited availability of university resources. Consequently your work feels like it will be of a lower standard, no matter how hard you try. The important thing is to aim to find ways of overcoming problems whilst not stressing too much if you cannot instantly find a solution, everyone on your course is more or less in the same boat. Know your rights in relation to extenuating circumstances and use them where applicable. It is important to be aware we are living in a pandemic, and whilst it is hard for everyone, your own mental health is highly important.
Florenne Earle Ledger