Credit: GG Photographer Ioanna Chrysanthakopoulou (@joan_chriss)

Zoom university: quantity isn’t a replacement for quality

By Michelle Osborne

Michelle Osborne argues that lecturers piling up the workload with online classes is hurting students more than it helps.

While doing my daily scroll on Facebook, I came across a GlasKnow post about one of my courses: “I don’t believe for a second that in any other year History 2 had this much workload,” was plastered on my timeline, with many of my friends reacting and commenting. Although I had noticed a slight increase in workload for History in particular, I didn’t think it was that bad.

Luckily, my friendships extend past just that course, so I soon realised that it wasn’t just history. Many of my friends have been complaining about full days of working without having a moment to themselves. Software engineering, economics, politics: the scope of subjects which have students experiencing this problem is vast. Clearly, classes online are producing far more work for students than is sustainable.

Maybe the workload is to make some students feel better for the thousands they’re investing in Zoom University. We’re all aware of the injustices of paying £9,250 a year (or more!) for online classes, and some staff may have seen an added workload as a way of making it up to us. They’re just doing us a favour, right? 

No matter how much virtual contact time they add, it’ll never make up for us not receiving in-person teaching. I’ve worked far harder this year already, but I’ve only absorbed a fraction of the information in comparison to last year. Regardless of whether they’re giving us more information, it isn’t of the same value as face-to-face teaching.

It could be a question of being more organised. If you’re the most motivated and organised student, surely all of the work is manageable. Right? Maybe part of the problem is the easy distractions at home. True or false, it’s impossible to expect all students to be able to work as efficiently in a new environment. Nobody has really experienced this type of learning before, and we can’t all be as motivated anymore. If we’re spending hours trapped in our rooms, forcing our personal space to double as a working hub and not getting any fresh air, then we’re going to be unmotivated. It’s an endless cycle – with student mental health plummeting.

And it’s easy to see such an impact on our mental health. I only need to read through those Facebook course chats to see the floods of messages complaining about the workload. Within one conversation, it became clear that some people hadn’t left their homes in weeks due to workload stress. During a global pandemic, when we’re already filled with anxiety, should we be investing in the privilege to get even more stressed?

I have coped with the workload – I don’t tend to procrastinate, and often I’ll plan work weeks in advance. However, even with that, I can see the deadlines and stress catching up to me.

For my history course, I’m beginning to lose interest in trying. Moodle books are dull and uninteresting, and often breaking up the work causes me to get distracted. We have frequent workshops which require reading beforehand and don’t replace lectures, meaning we’re getting added hours to our timetable. History is already time-consuming with extra reading: why make it worse?

It seems different subjects have varying problems. Friends in politics and economics have complained about their subjects being disorganised. Without organisation on Moodle, it’s hard to find deadlines or the particular work for that day, taking up unnecessary hours of work. My resident workaholics have found that they have too much access to the lectures, so they spend hours slowly going through work, taking notes on every minute detail. Whether it’s added information, disorganisation, or a personal issue, clearly online learning is taking far more time and mental power to get through.

Personally, I’m coping better with online lectures than I expected. This may be because I’m constantly playing lectures at 1.5x speed, or that I’m oddly motivated at the moment, but everybody is spending more time on their work than in previous years. Stuck in our rooms and constantly staring at a screen can take a mental toll, and many of us seem to be feeling this. The workload needs to be altered to help us to take time to look after ourselves amidst all this stress.


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