Covid-19 has changed our lives in ways many of us couldn’t have imagined – who would have thought that social distancing, masks and Zoom calls would become the new normal? For, as the UK starts to get to grips with the pandemic, universities are trying to find the best way to tackle teaching in post-lockdown Britain.
Many are looking to trial the ‘blended learning’ approach – also known as the ‘hybrid system’ – in which students will experience a mix of in-person and online classes. Gen-Z aren’t strangers to learning with our screens, but it’s worth investigating whether this is the right long-term solution. The UCU recently urged universities to consider scrapping plans for face-to-face teaching until Christmas to prevent a second Covid spike, saying that a million students moving around the country was “a recipe for disaster”. A survey for the New York Times also linked 26,000 cases and 64 deaths to more than 1,500 American colleges and universities since the pandemic began; many of them have experienced significant spikes in coronavirus cases since reopening and some worry that the UK could be going down a similar path.
Obviously tightly packed lecture theatres full of semi-showered uni students aren’t ideal when battling a contagious virus, but are Zoom calls really a suitable replacement? Having experienced a taster of online classes myself, I can testify that they definitely aren’t popular, and by that I mean a whopping 4 students (max) were in attendance for each session. Speaking to friends from various schools across the country also made it clear that low online turnout was a common theme. On that note, I think it’s reasonable to assume that a number of students won’t take the online segments of their courses as seriously as the in-person ones and this poses a problem. What happens if the modules being taught online are equally important to a student’s degree, but they simply lack the vigour, motivation, or accountability to bother attending? In many cases, universities will attempt to hold larger lectures online and have students meet in person for smaller sessions instead.
there’s a risk with the online aspect of the hybrid model people will struggle to relax in their homes
Ultimately, we must remember that the responsibility of attending classes — in whatever format – lies with the students. We should also try to understand that lecturers experience the same inconveniences of blended learning that we do. Working from home has always had its perks – staying in comfy outfits, lying in bed and constantly being a walking distance away from the fridge – but as much as these are blessings, they can be a curse when you’re trying to concentrate. Many of us find it difficult to get uninterrupted time at home, which often leaves the bedroom as the only space to levy as a home library/office.
However, experts at Harvard University insist that “keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep”. With this in mind, there’s a risk with the online aspect of the hybrid model people will struggle to relax in their homes because of the blurred boundaries between work and relaxation. Fortunately, the new system won’t completely isolate staff and students from the university campus, which I hope will help keep our mindsets on track academically and give us a much-needed breather from the confinement of our houses.
Social distancing, increased sanitation and on-campus testing are just some of the ways that universities plan to make blended learning safe
Of course, the most common online learning obstacle is often the interru– “Sorry guys, I think we’re having a technical issue”. As lockdown classes have highlighted, there are several potential mishaps that can occur when learning online. It often happens that when we need technology the most, it likes to mess around in the form of poor connections, dead batteries, and muffled audio-visuals. We all know that technology can be unreliable and we can’t expect blended learning to be perfect the first-time round, so let’s try and come up with useful suggestions as we go along, and avoid screaming at our screens when something goes wrong.
Universities UK say many of us want to return to face-to-face teaching in September and the Government seems convinced that universities are “well prepared” for students to arrive. Social distancing, increased sanitation and on-campus testing are just some of the ways that universities plan to make blended learning safe and I’m sure these changes will take getting used to. At the end of the day, the biggest priority is our safety and although we may be missing our old university lives, let’s try and work with the compromise of the hybrid system and adapt to our ‘new normal’.
By Omo Ifabua
Image: by leanforward_photos via Creative Commons