Since March 2020 the student experience of university has radically changed.
We said goodbye to face to face teaching, large scale social study and drop in office hours and plunged into the world of digital education with equal parts enthusiasm, curiosity and apprehension.
The average day for a student now starts with recorded lectures, seminars via Zoom and interaction with Virtual Learning Environments.
Overnight, education has turned into something out of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One as opposed to the ‘uni life’ that is so familiar to students of the pre-2020 era.
Needless to say, some students have thrived in this new environment, while others have found it challenging.
For mature students or those with caring responsibilities, remote study has allowed for greater flexibility.
This has meant reading articles while doing the kids’ breakfasts, or working around various day activities.
Some first year students have really enjoyed the independence, i.e. structuring their own days and studying around part time work.
It hasn’t been quite what they were promised but the journey to independence is certainly still happening.
Connecting with people has changed too, as students now rely on impromptu meetings through seminars or academic forums to make new friends.
Though it may require a little more effort, meaningful conversations are still happening.
In halls, though students are in bubbles they are still cooking and studying together, albeit in smaller groups.
Freshers’ week looked different, but the rest of year has shaped up to be a little better than expected.
For students at the University of Cumbria and De Montfort University, it has been their university lecturers that have kept them going.
Dr Julie Taylor at Cumbria has been spotlighted as a model tutor throughout Covid-19 – both for her informative advice on dissertation projects and personal support – and it is great to see such high levels of pastoral, as well as academic support.
However, the pandemic has brought with it a host of social concerns which are now all too familiar in the third lockdown.
The lack of socialising both in and out of the classroom has led to mass loneliness, as well as an increase in poor mental health. Zoom fatigue and burnout are becoming a daily occurrence.
Though some are in halls, for those living at home it means wrestling a whole host of challenges.
Children, pets, an Amazon delivery, the distraction of the kitchen and/or the television mean that concentrating is much harder than it would be in a dedicated learning space, and more students are seeking extensions and mitigating circumstances.
As we move through 2021, the student experience is evolving into a dynamic and unprecedented entity.
Though some question the value of the university experience, it cannot be denied that Covid-19 is teaching students how to be resilient in difficult and trying circumstances, and graduates of 2020 and beyond will enter the workforce as a unique talent with a truly unforgettable university experience behind them.