Claire Thomson reflects on our first semester of online university.
After those months of long queues outside the library, dark sleepless nights, and hoards of stressed students, our first semester is finally over. Online university has been a real rollercoaster, with many ups and downs – but with exam season having passed us by quicker than anyone expected, we now have the opportunity to reflect on online learning. Fingers crossed it won’t last much longer.
After that dreaded first week of confusion, those long, repetitive introductory lectures, and an overall lack of competency from everyone, it seemed that the only way was up. The thought of Zoom university was not appealing to me, so I set my expectations low to avoid disappointment. I’ll be the first to admit that I am awful with computers and technology, so the idea of having to complete the entire semester online was a daunting prospect, but I took it in my stride. Actually, I would even go as far as to say I have enjoyed online learning.
As a Modern Languages student, most of my classes were live, very interactive, and involved many a breakout room and group discussion. To say that socialising this semester was challenging is an understatement, and whilst the person-to-person contact of being in a lecture theatre or seminar room was missed, having most of my conversations camera-to-camera helped to suppress the desire to meet up with others. It can’t be denied that turning your camera on in a group of people is a really nerve-wracking experience, but it is important to remember that most people feel the exact same way. All it takes is for one person to bite the bullet and the rest will follow.
So whilst my flatmates sat day-in, day-out, watching long-winded pre-recorded lectures with very little social interaction during the day, I was engaging in various blethers with different classmates and lecturers, becoming more and more interested in the work and feeling some sense of normality. Naturally, there were some classes that didn’t go to plan and the sole idea of an online oral class was enough for me to want to turn off my laptop. Everyone I mentioned online oral classes to shuddered. In some cases, I didn’t have a scooby what was going on thanks to the ever reliable quality of Zoom audio, but at least I still had the opportunity to practice my speaking, right?
The amount of free time I have gained compared to my first year is enormous. Cutting out my travel time and being able to pop through to the kitchen for lunch has allowed me more time for productivity than I had before. I will be the last to complain about not having to do the walk to the University: Gibson Street is a killer.
The trials and tribulations of attending classes from your bedroom were apparent to me right from the beginning. I’m sure I am not alone with my frustrations over the various breakdowns of Moodle at the beginning of term. On several occasions, my laptop decided that enough was enough and began to pamper itself with another update. Zoom was not always the friendliest study partner either, kicking out the poor, unexpecting victim of that class: for me, that victim was, more often than not, the lecturer. The buzzer for the front door is also often another problem. Recently, a workman came to the flat to fix a few problems, and unknowingly to us, decided to test the smoke alarms, right when I unmuted my mic to speak – thanks for the warning!
If you, like me, struggled to find motivation or peace of mind this semester, I would definitely say that the most important thing to remember to spend time away from the screen (or uni work anyway). Every evening, my flatmates and I would try to spend a minimum of half an hour after dinner, chatting, singing along to music, talking about our days, watching some mindless television, or just being silly – literally anything that would help us relax and go to bed with a positive mindset. For those times when you are ready to throw your laptop out the window, go out for a walk, no matter the weather. If you are feeling unproductive, confused, or generally in need of a break, put in your headphones and get outside in some fresh air. It’s such a good way to forget about everything and just clear your head (and also to boost those endorphins!).
Last semester, I made so many new friends (granted, some of which I haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet in person), learnt to improve my time management and motivate myself, and – perhaps most importantly – recognised the importance of self-care. Whilst online university has treated everyone differently, and I’m most likely in the minority who have enjoyed it, I’ve found that it’s important to always try to find the light at the end of the tunnel: we can’t have a rainbow without the rain.