By Sarah Slevin
With the first week of online classes now over, we’ve all gotten a real taste of how the 2020/21 academic year will pan out. So, how are we feeling about it? The good news is that it is not all bad – many students SIN have spoken to have been able to find their silver-lined cloud in the world of online learning. Having said that though, the cons of it are by no means insignificant. From communication to fees, here is a real sense of how NUIG’s students are coping.
A lot of students agree that online learning has one major benefit: recorded lectures. Jess Harkin, an MA student in Digital Media, makes the point that in-person lectures can often be hard to keep up with and that having the luxury to pause and go at your own pace is really beneficial. Another advantage seems to be having the ability to access recorded lectures: it means that they are available for students when doing assignments or essays. However, some lectures are only being pre-recorded and are not live at all.
This poses multiple problems, and not all of them are with regards to academia. Fionn McGlacken, a 2nd year student studying Psychological Studies with Data Science, explains that it is “much harder to concentrate when watching pre-recorded lectures because it doesn’t feel like you’re there with everyone”. And so, we must now turn our attention to the impact online learning is having on students’ mental health.
A lack of social interaction and collaboration is already taking a toll on many students and this is quite troubling seeing as we are only a month or so in. While a lot of students have acknowledged that some aspects of working from home are beneficial, such as saving money on food and time on commuting, it would be crazy to ignore the severe effects being in the one area all the time has on you mentally.
Robbie Walsh, a 2nd year Arts student says that “it feels like you have more of a workload” which is likely due to the fact that everything is done at your own desk. It is a lonely way of learning.
When asked about what changes they would like to see in the coming weeks, many students referred to communication – whether that be with lecturers or simply their classmates. Not knowing who is in your class, being unable to discuss your studies in person, and feeling like your only friend is your computer screen is simply not sustainable long term. While there is a clear understanding from students that lecturers are doing their best under the circumstances, there is also an undeniable need for these concerns to be addressed.
But what is the answer?
It seems that it would be an effective move for lecturers to swap out some lectures with more tutorials, more Q&A sessions and more use of break-out rooms – basically anything that can provide classmates with an opportunity to collaborate and interact with each other.
In the meantime, though there are options for students missing the sociability of college life, such as CÉIM, a student-run programme that could ease the loneliness many are feeling this year. The initiative is led by 2nd-4th year students who run zoom meetings for first years where they can meet fellow classmates and speak to those who have walked in their shoes.
A programme like this is more vital than ever this year, as first years are experiencing an introduction to college life like no other.
And now, we must delve into the controversial topic of fees. If you are expecting a barrage of backlash, then you will be a little underwhelmed. The level of understanding from the students SIN spoke to is quite admirable. Each student chorused the same sentiment: a reduction is needed. Emma Griffin, who is studying an MA in History, says “there should be a small percentage off due to the fact that we aren’t receiving the exact same conditions as we would if we were in college”. She is backed up by the vast majority of students who all echo the point that the facilities aren’t accessible enough to warrant the same fee level as previous years.
Many are unsure where their money is going and while there is an awareness of the fact that salaries need to be paid and buildings maintained, clarity is sought on the issue.
Fionn McGlacken summed it up best with his words:
“Online classes are a tolerable, temporary solution and not ideal”.