‘Will I get into my seminar?’: Lancaster students on the disadvantages of online learning

‘Working in the same place I eat, sleep, and cry isn’t exactly a good environment’

We’re half way through the year and hopefully half way through yet another lockdown, Uni’s been online since September, so you’d think we’d all have gotten used to it and mastered the art of Teams and break out rooms. Though we’re all fairly used to the internet and know how to work a computer, having uni be exclusively online still presents quite a few challenges, and since we don’t know when we’ll be retuning to in-person teaching, we may have to endure these challenges a little longer.

Because we’re all scattered around the country, and even the globe, our experiences of online uni have all been slightly different and disadvantages are really starting to show. We asked Lancaster students what their experience has been like and how they think it has impacted their overall studies.

‘I feel bad that I can’t turn my camera on without my whole Teams basically crashing’

When asked about what kind of issues students were having with online learning, a lot of the same answer came up: Wifi. Obviously, having all our seminars put onto Teams means we rely on a good internet connection now more than ever.

Julia, a 2nd Year Geography student, told us that she has poor wifi connection and that there’s just not much she can do about it: “I live in a rural area so fibre internet isn’t an option for us, I’m stuck with the slow speed until the university allows us back.” While the asynchronous lectures work fine for her, Julia was concerned about the live sessions: “Being on a much slower internet speed means people often cut out.”

Another student, Connor, who is doing a Law degree, said that “One of the key issues with online learning is equipment and access to resources .” Connor went on to explain that certain students have access to very advanced setups, like designated work PCs and iPads, while most students only have access to one basic computer which can run a lot slower. “This fundamentally comes down to whether someone can afford those upgrades, effectively placing students with limited resources at a huge disadvantage.” The quality of your setup isn’t as important in normal circumstances, because in in-person seminars, pen and paper do just fine.

‘I’ve just got nowhere to actually work without distraction’

On top of everything being online, and largely because of that, lots of students have ended up staying home this term, which we all know can be kind of a challenge.

Emma, first year Drama student, hasn’t been able to work outside of her room because her parents are also working from home: “I don’t have a desk, so I’ve been doing all my classes from bed,” and Paul, a film studies student who has also been relegated to his room expressed this: “Working in the same place that I eat, sleep, and cry isn’t exactly a good environment.”

Julia said that she often gets distracted by her family who are all still living at home as well: “I can’t blame my family for disturbing me, I don’t expect them to know my schedule or anything, especially since I’m not even supposed to be living here right now.”

Bella, a first year History student with a disability, made the choice to come back to uni due to having no study space at home, only to find that conditions at uni were worse: “The study space I have here is not equipped for my condition as I’m still waiting to receive my disability equipment from DSA. It’s not ideal.”

‘The university said that was their teaching style and we have to accept it’

Connor has had a few issues with the formatting of his online classes as a Law student: “Some of my lectures are voice recordings that we have to listen to through Apple Music, with no PowerPoints of handouts to accompany the voice notes.” He said that sometimes his tutors will send a lecture sheet to accompany these voice recordings, but they are usually quite empty with only a few accompanying bullet points here and there.

Because of her disability, Bella has an ILSP, letting the university know that being sat for more than an hour at a time is extremely painful for her. However, this seems like it hasn’t been taken into account: “I have two back to back seminars on a Monday morning.” Furthermore, Bella’s disability causes a lot of interruption in her work schedule: “When my condition flares up, I just can’t concentrate in my seminars, and I struggle to participate. I don’t feel like I’m gaining full access to my education because of it.” Bella has had to miss some of her seminars as well.

Drama student Emma has had to make do with the lack of space in her bedroom during her movement classes: “I’ve had absolutely no room and have been expected to just move my furniture around to get as much space as possible. They’ve sort of very much assumed everybody has access to space.” In first term when her deadline had been moved forward, the department offered her reassurance that the inconvenience would be taken into account while grading, but same hasn’t been done for these new circumstances she’s facing. “We’ve not really been reassured about grading this term.”

Overall the online student experience has had mixed reviews, it’s definitely not the worst situation, but we just hope that we can resume normal in-person studying sometime soon. The longer we deal with this, the better solutions will become.

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