From 20 contact hours to none: Notts students share their online teaching experience
‘Not only are we losing out on the experience, we are getting in debt to potentially do everything online’
As Nottingham announces plans for campus to open as planned in September, at least some degree of online teaching looks here to stay.
In an email to students, VC Shearer West insisted that the quality of teaching would not be impacted, promising the “highest teaching quality”.
With exam season in full swing, we asked UoN students how they have found the progression to virtual studying, with a plethora of responses but one common thread – the confusing future all Notts students currently face.
“We missed a hospital placement and GP placement, which can’t really be simulated”
Jack*, first year Medicine, would normally have around 20 hours of lectures a week. Now he has to make do with self-teaching methods.
“The practicals that we have missed are active things that require resources and partners to practice, software for example. We have missed learning the musculoskeletal exam in person, which is a very important and quite fundamental process,” Jack told The Nottingham Tab.
Jack was also unable to complete a hospital placement, where “a big part of the experience is making students feel more natural and secure in that environment with patients”.
“It’s made it a lot harder to know what’s going on next year as we’ve not been given the best information”
Will, a second year Medical Physiology and Therapeutics student, said: “As I don’t have that many lectures, we rely mainly on tutorials which the university wasn’t great on keeping us informed about.”
With an obvious lack of physical tutorials, the quality of both learning and teaching is being compromised, he says: “For some modules, we did miss out on tutorials which would have made it easier to understand aspects of the module. They also changed one of our modules to 100 per cent coursework the day before we were meant to hand it in, which added lots of unnecessary stress”.
The lack of information being given to students on third year modules adds stress, said Will.
“Home working isn’t always smooth going”
Many students found themselves leaving university and returning home to isolate with their families and Sally, in the first year of her PhD on Geospatial Systems, did the same.
“Home working isn’t always smooth going. I have remote access to the desktop in our office, but the connection isn’t great and I have a lot of data that I was due to process stuck on a hard drive,” she told The Nottingham Tab.
Sally noted that whilst she is probably in a better position than many postgraduates, particularly those who are in the middle stages of their research, she has still felt the impact and disruption towards her work. She highlights that working from home can be stressful, as “a lot of us will have the health and wellbeing of family and friends and the economy playing on the back of our minds”.
“It is definitely still possible to do well through online learning, but I personally know I would struggle a lot”
Sam, second year Business and German, had a differing opinion about online teaching and how it affected mainly the language element of his degree.
“I found online learning quite challenging because it was focused very much on one person at a time,” he told The Nottingham Tab.
“Often in our language seminars last year, we would get into small groups and talk in German to each other, which is not possible online as the teacher has to talk to one person at a time, which can be pretty boring for the people not speaking”.
Overall, Sam felt his department had made an effort to keep the quality of online teaching high, but at the cost of potential interest and enjoyment of his degree.
“Not only are we losing out on the experience, we’re getting in debt to potentially do everything online”
There is also a lack of certainty for those students whose courses feature a year abroad. Toby, studying Chinese and Russian, had planned on spending his third year abroad, splitting the time in both China and Russia.
He told The Nottingham Tab he experienced a real lack of communication from professors about the status of his compulsory year abroad, waiting almost two months for any real alternative to be offered. “I think the cherry on top of the cake was ‘why don’t you go to Estonia instead of Russia?’ You know, that country that doesn’t speak Russian,” he said.
“I’d rather the money go to organisations that are working within the crisis, rather than the university”
Emily, a third year Geography student, was disappointed with the limited amount of online hours in the final months of her degree. “In terms of online teaching, since 18th March, I’ve had one online presentation and then only three revision sessions over teams. Three! I think it’s ridiculous that I am paying so much money for very little communication with any lecturers,” she said.
Emily expressed her confusion as to where her fees were actually going, now that the university is shut pending further notice, stating that she’d much rather the money go to organisations who are working directly within the crisis.
“Without the immediacy of face to face sessions, your train of thought becomes lost and you can fall behind easily”
Jed, a second year Economics and Politics student, highlighted timing being a major issue through online teaching. “I’m not saying that professors haven’t tried, but when you have an immediate question about a piece of coursework for example, it’s much more beneficial to have a face to face meeting with a professor to help you understand an idea,” he told The Nottingham Tab.
“With emails, naturally there is a delay in response of about a day or two, and then you’re confused again, you’ve lost your train of thought and the structure for you to reach your full potential just isn’t there”.
With sports stopped and the opportunity for societies to connect people with shared interests severely limited, Jed feels there’s a whole other side of uni that’s gone missing. “It’s a waste of opportunities to add to our CVs too, which will help us in the competitive job market later on,” he said.
“Obviously, there’s not much we can do short term, I’m not expecting them to do it perfectly right away”
Some students are empathising with professors and departments with their difficult task of adapting not just teaching, but assessments to be online.
Maya, a History second year, noted that if online learning was to be extended, she would feel more disadvantaged if the structure of her course didn’t change. “For some reason, the History department couldn’t find a way to make online exams work and instead they just gave us coursework,” she said.
“The problem I had was that I wasn’t being assessed on the majority of my course, which made the rest of my knowledge seem redundant. Some students prefer exams to coursework so if we have to take further assessments online, then they need to change the structure and incorporate more content from the course”.
Whilst students provided a real mix in responses, from optimism to pessimism, annoyance to understanding and concern to confusion, there was one stand out response from Ed, second year Geography, which captured the essence of students’ thoughts towards online learning: “I think it’s shit.”
*Name has been changed to preserve the anonymity of the student.