Review: We asked Cambridge students what a year of online teaching has been like

I won’t lie, I don’t know where my lectures are actually supposed to be…


In May last year, Cambridge announced that it was taking all lectures online for the next academic year. As a prospective offer holder (and now fresher), I was horrified. The pandemic? Lasting a whole year?! Surely not?!?!

Fast forward to June 2021, my exams are done and my first year at Cambridge has been completed. As much as I’ve enjoyed this year, it has been strange not experiencing the whole ‘waking up at 8:50 and running to a 9am lecture’ thing (the journey from my bed… to my bed isn’t very treacherous), so I decided to ask the students of Cambridge: how have YOU found a year of online teaching at uni?

“Academically more difficult than in person teaching”

Not that I have any experience in this, but several people felt that the online teaching just couldn’t compare to the real thing. One student told us that the in-person interaction is “key” to the Cambridge experience, whilst another told us that in-person supervisions were “infinitely” better compared to those held online. Although it has been acknowledged the Uni tried their best, the general consensus was that online teaching was far less engaging.

Going online took our hatred of Eduroam to a whole new level (Image credit: Screenshot from Camfess)

Is your name wifi? Because I’m feeling a connection… I think?

It wouldn’t be an article about online teaching without mentioning the wifi connection. When asked if students had ever experienced technical difficulties, responses ranged from “wifi issues from time to time but generally ok overall” to “eduroam is rubbish”, or even just “yes!!!!.” Although we may laugh about the awkward Zoom lag (“no you go first!!”) and being able to do supervisions with pyjamas on, some students raised important points about how some of us have missed large chunks of teaching due to connection issues.

Eduroam: the most common cause of heartbreak (Image credits: authors own and Cambridge University via the Creative Commons License)

One student felt that it could have beneficial if lecturers or supervisions were able to offer follow-up teaching hours, or at least a summary of what happened in the section of the call that they missed. Many emphasised to me how it felt unfair that students were sometimes seen as responsible for the quality of their wifi, especially given that Colleges did not always appear sympathetic.

“It was nice to be able to message other people during the class if you both had no idea what was going on”

It’s not all bad news! Although the vast majority of students we surveyed couldn’t wait for in-person teaching to return, most agreed that online teaching provided students with even more flexibility. One STEM student told us that, due to their busy course, online teaching saved them a lot of time they would have spent commuting between places, enabling them to “socialise and meet new people in first year.” Furthermore, many felt that the ability to pause, rewind and rewatch recorded lectures assisted in learning new content, and one student with a disability mentioned that being able to record supervisions was really helpful for their note taking.

Some students also noted how hilarious it was to be able to message other students during lectures/supervisions. One student described it as if “something funny/strange/awkward just happened in the call, you could share those little moments together!” Forget freshers’ week, friendships are formed and solidified over live Zoom lectures.

Of course the ability to wear PJ’s all day, every day, was mentioned MULTIPLE times. Comfort over everything, right guys?

I think we can all relate to this one (Image credit: Screenshot from Camfess)

As this deep-dive into online lectures comes to an end, the Tab wants to say well done for making it through another year, and hopefully in-person teaching will return as soon as it’s safe to do so 🙂 

Featured image credit: Hannah Huang, screenshot from Camfess

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