Students look back on one year of online learning

Emily Clarke

This month marks a year since students across Ireland began online learning. In March 2020 they all thought they were getting two weeks off college; little did they realise they would still be in the same situation in 2021.

Starting out, remote learning was a novelty for everyone, but now students are faced with endless Zoom calls, late nights watching pre-recorded lecturers, struggling to stay on top of the weekly work for every module, and in some cases a lesser quality of learning.

Amy Phillips, a final year communications student in DCU feels as though online learning has led to lecturers not teaching the same way they would in person.

“They’re not all recording their lectures and it’s so hard to get a hold of them when we have questions that we don’t want to ask in front of the whole class,” said Phillips.

She continued: “I found video production hard because my laptop is too old to work with the software that DCU offers and unfortunately my lecturer couldn’t help me with this.”

Since becoming accustomed to remote learning, Phillips has found it difficult to separate her college work and her time to unwind.

She explains: “My room is where I study and it’s hard to stop studying when I’m trying to relax, I feel like I’m constantly needing to do something.”

Like many students, Phillips does not have a proper place to study and attend lecturers.  “My internet doesn’t reach my room properly, so I have to do lectures in my kitchen which is ridiculous because it’s the busiest room in my house,” said Phillips.

Similar concerns were echoed by Alice Jack, first-year law and French student in DCU who has been doing online learning since the end of her 6th year of secondary school.

“My mam and I had to rearrange most of our home to accommodate all her equipment for her job as well as giving me a space to work while I was studying,” said Jack.

As a first-year, Jack feels as though she has missed out on “one of the greatest experiences ever” being stuck at home while it passes her by.

Although she has only experienced university online, Jack still wants to be back on campus to be able to meet people and properly communicate with her lecturers. However, she feels the move from online to in-person learning will not be easy.

“It’ll be a tough transition for everyone when we go back on campus, but for first-years who are heading into year two it will definitely be harder,” says Jack, “all the things we should know about campus by now, we don’t.”

While remote learning has been hard, final year journalism student Lora Doyle explains how it has its advantages. In her own experience, Doyle was spending less time on public transport and more time working on assignments, which improved her grades.

“I had a lot more free time to work on college and focus on my extracurricular work which has boosted my CV and my portfolio,” she said.

Despite this, Doyle feels as though her mental health has suffered from “spending so much time in my room” isolated from her peers and classmates.

She says: “I didn’t realise how much I benefited from just being around other people in college and being around like-minded people.”

Doyle continued: “it’s really affecting my mindset and it’s affected my motivation this year too because I’m not around people that are all working towards the same goal anymore, I’m just working by myself.”

Doyle believes that the lack of funding is where the college “failed us”. On top of high fees, she spent €2,000 on a new laptop and camera equipment to compensate for not having access to Mac labs and the loans office on campus.

Doyle says that fees could’ve been reduced considering that we weren’t on campus and the college didn’t need to cover the costs of basic utilities, such as heating and lighting.

“I don’t understand why grants couldn’t have been given to us to be able to afford to adapt our homes to work online,” she said.

Going forward, Doyle thinks a hybrid approach of online and in-person teaching would greatly benefit students to give students more time to work on assignments, without missing out on the college experience.

“I hope going forward DCU gives students the opportunity to have a blended learning experience because it would open the doors up to a lot of students who couldn’t afford rent [in Dublin] or don’t want to spend a huge chunk of their day on public transport.”

Although not much has changed with online learning, students can only hope that universities learn from the past year and make necessary changes to help those who are struggling with remote working.

Emily Clarke

Image credit: Andrew Conway