As universities cancel face-to-face lectures and start to close libraries and other learning spaces, Principal Adviser for Learning and Teaching (Advance HE), Dr Kay Hack speaks to Ailbhe Kendall, a final year engineering student, about his concerns and thoughts on continuing to study through this public health emergency.
- What are the main concerns for you and your course and flatmates at the moment?
The biggest worry amongst my friends is bringing the coronavirus home. Because of how students live and come into such close proximity with each other both at home and at university, there is the worry that it will spread extremely quickly through the student body. This is especially true for the large student accommodation blocks where you may have a couple of hundred students all in the same building. Because of the low mortality rate for people in our age group, catching it is not the major worry, but no one wants to travel home and risk introducing it to grandparents or other vulnerable family members. Although I know a few people are going home, most aren’t due to concerns about spreading coronavirus. I think most people are generally quite clued in and are paying attention to the discouragement of unnecessary travel and deciding to just stay at uni over the Easter break.
- Your classes are scheduled to stop this week- how does that make you feel?
For me personally and many of my friends our biggest concern currently is projects/dissertations. For those that still need access to lab equipment there is a worry that they won’t be able to do it and get the results that they need for their dissertation.
Our libraries are still open, however I have stopped going to the library as it feels like an unnecessary risk. I do work far better at the library compared to being at home so it affects me in that way. It is definitely harder to get things done with everyone home all the time but it is manageable.
- How ready do you think your lecturers are to switch to online learning?
There is the obvious fact that many lecturers are not the most tech-savy people and I wonder how exactly lecturers will transition to an online digital learning environment.
I can personally identify the lecturers that I would be confident of online teaching and the ones that I am not. There is a big disparity in digital literacy between lecturers. It is the difference between the one that is able to wirelessly screenshare her tablet through the projector so is able to do annotations but still walk about and help students during examples and the ones that can barely get PowerPoint to work. One of my flatmates gave the example of her lecturer who would always forget which blackboard was video recorded and would invariably use the wrong one – so the content wouldn’t be recorded.
- What is the most important thing that lecturers should be thinking about when moving to online learning?
I’m not sure what the most important thing is, possibly getting all the content delivered, and delivered in such a way that we get a comparable experience to what we would have got in face to face lectures. For engineering students, and I am sure many other subjects, it is important to have the opportunity to see and work through examples, as concepts and problems build in complexity it is important to get real time feedback, or you can quickly become lost. Ultimately students are paying a lot of money for this content to be delivered and the university has a responsibility to still deliver it.
- Have you been told about changes to your assessments due to COVID-19?
Some people have had deadlines moved back, however the response does not seem to be consistent across faculties. There have been emails informing us that there will likely be changes, in particular to exams, but nothing concrete on what these changes will be. I imagine it is a case of when they know we will know.
- How well informed do you feel about how your learning and assessment will be managed over next few weeks?
Right now there is a lot of uncertainty in particular about assessment, and how exactly lectures are going to be delivered. My research project is the biggest thing I am currently working on, and that is my main worry. It seems likely that it will still have the same deadline, but luckily my project is based on computer modelling and I have all the software I need on my own laptop. I know others are not so fortunate. Right now it seems that exams are far away and it will be a matter of crossing that hurdle, as ever the biggest concern is the next assessment. Such is university life.
Based on this interview Dr Kay Hack has written a blog on how we can continue to provide students with inclusive and equitable access to their education during this public health emergency.