University students are struggling to complete practical courses online

Shauna Burdis

Third-level students are struggling to complete practical courses and modules online, as access to equipment and laboratories is restricted by universities. 

The decision to continue full online-learning was made by third-level institutions to follow public health guidelines. However, when the country entered the second level 5 lockdown on October 21, 2020, university practical classes like laboratories and skills-based learning remained as on-campus classes.

Last year, during the first semester of the academic year, universities were optimistic about the chance of increasing on-campus teaching and activity for students. Due to current level 5 restrictions, Irish universities have continued online lectures into the second semester, meaning some students may not set foot on their university campus for the entire 2020/2021 academic year.

UCD Chemistry student, Diarmuid O’Hanlon says his experience of online learning is less positive than others.

“Personally, I can’t stand this semester”, said O’Hanlon.

“I’m a third-year chemistry student whose whole degree is based on learning scientific ideas and then applying them in the lab, yet now I can’t go into the labs to do any experimentations.

“We are now expected to watch short videos of people doing the experiment, then we write a concise and complicated scientific report as if we did the experiment.

“This is ridiculous, as I am learning new scientific methods and techniques, yet I am not able to actually do these [experiments] and watch the reactions take place,” he continued.

“How am I supposed to do well in my internship that’s taking place this year, when they ask me to set up scientific apparatus that they know I should have used in the past two semesters, yet I am unable to do so because I never got a hands-on approach using that apparatus.”

Lauren Ní Bairéid, DCU final year Communications student said that her experience of completing practical modules without access to required equipment was “an extremely stressful process”. 

“We were not supplied with any materials and were instructed to do our projects on our phones. This put us all at an extreme disadvantage, as many of us didn’t have the newest phones with great camera quality. 

“It was an extremely stressful process that really could’ve been cleared up had the college taken the time to sit down and consider how cameras and microphones could’ve been sanitised.  

“I don’t believe DCU have done enough to aid their students, especially as a final year student when 90% of our final year degree will rely on this year’s results. 

“We have not received the same standard of education as previous final year students.” She said. 

DCU has confirmed that it will continue the remaining 2020/2021 academic year online due to extended level 5 restrictions, despite previous talks of increased campus hours for students.

In an email sent to the student body, DCU’s Vice President for Academic Affairs confirmed that: “Teaching activities for the remainder of Semester 2 will continue online as they currently are.

“We considered all limited options available for teaching on campus, but the situation nationally remains serious.

“DCU had an early start to this semester; this means that any relaxation in restrictions that would allow a return to campus teaching would only give us a week or two at best and leave students scrambling for accommodation and transport arrangements for a very short period.

“This would be far from ideal and so we have taken a decision for the full semester.”

Speaking about her experience of completing practical modules through online lessons, DCU Journalism student Niamh Quinlan said: “The biggest thing is the lack of access to equipment.

“I’m doing a practical course and I need microphones and proper cameras and a faster computer. I mean the college has helped out with giving us software and things.

“But it’s just quite frustrating because it’s meant to be a practical course where I’m out in the world, experiencing everything, but I’m working from my bedroom and barely leaving my desk.

“I feel a little bit cheated, to be honest.” Quinlan said.

DCU final year student Lauren Allen said that her experience of completing her degree from home has been challenging, but it is a price she is willing to pay to keep loved ones safe.

“There are times that I can’t believe I’m in the final semester of my final year of college and I’m completing really important assignments in the middle of a pandemic, it’s all a bit mad.

“But if staying at home means the people we love are protected, then it’s worth it,” she said.

Shauna Burdis

Image credit: Andrew Conway

Note: This article was reuploaded on 26/03/2021 due to a fault with The College View website.