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Reflecting on a year of Covid-19

Online to normality: how are students feeling about the coming months?

By Skye MacDonald

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It has been just over a year since the Coronavirus pandemic was declared, and a year since the UK went into lockdown. It has been a year since University was moved online, assessments were cancelled, the “Stay at home” message was the new normal and uncertainty, fear and apprehension kicked into lives world-wide. It has been a year of questioning, wondering, grieving and hoping. Hoping that a vaccine would be found, that our family and friends would stay healthy, that things would not last forever. It has been a year that many students have felt their lives take a halt, independence be lost, education be sloped. It has also been a year to reboot, re-energise and appreciate slowness.

Reflecting on these past twelve months, I decided to put out a survey to students questioning them on their online learning, and how they feel about heading towards some form of new normality. Now, that a vaccine is being distributed there is hope that the coming Summer months will bring an out-of-lockdown-life back again, and that by September things may look fairly normal. The automatic assumption might be that students can’t wait for life to go back to what we knew before - for clubs and pubs to be open, to have group gatherings, to have normal classes. However, from my anonymous research, while there was a lot of excitement at this thought, there is evidence that many students are feeling fairly apprehensive about the prospect of going back to normal social and university lives. The questions I asked were: Have you enjoyed online uni? What have the benefits of online uni been/ what have you missed the most about in-person university? How are you feeling about “going back to normal”? And, are you apprehensive about returning to normal, and if so, what about? The results were really eye-opening and revealed a mix of views about the coming months.

I had 36 responses, with 55.6% of people answering being 3rd years, 19.4% 4th years, 11.1% 2nd year and 13.9% 1st year.

Asking the question, “Have you enjoyed uni being online?” the highest percentage of people (77.8%) said that they enjoyed some aspects of it, while only 13.9% said no and a minority of 8.3% said yes.

The general consensus that students have enjoyed some parts of online learning can be said to be pretty positive as it shows that despite a year of zoom calls, online lectures and decreased social interaction, there has been some up-sides to the “Open University” style of learning.

Considering the benefits of online university, a lot of people commented on the flexibility they have felt this past year and how studying from home has helped their time management and enabled them to do more things for their enjoyment outside of uni-work. A few also commented on their appreciation of lectures being much more enjoyable in terms of podcasts and guest-speakers being utilised to a greater extent. One person wrote: “I don’t think people would have been so appreciative of a guest speaker via Zoom before the pandemic, but Zoom allows us to connect with people all over the world, and we can hear lectures or attend workshops with people that otherwise would never have been available to visit us in Aberdeen, which is really valuable.”

A few of the respondents have commented on how because of their flexibility with online learning, life consequently has been less stressful. In a time where anxieties about the future are very normal, this can be considered a really great aspect of online learning. Due to not having to be on campus, we have had more time to just get on with work at our own pace, not being confined to so much of a strict schedule.

On the other hand; however, there were of course, many comments on how online university has meant less social interaction with classmates and lecturers. Some commented on the worry that they have missed chances to build relationships with professors since contact has been restricted to screen-only. Alongside this, the normal university experience of grabbing coffee with friends after a lecture or having lively discussions in an in-person class have been missed massively. The valuable practical experiences of some degrees (i.e., cadavers in medicine) have meant the worry of being behind in normal knowledge.

When questioning how the respondents felt about “going back to normal” there was a huge mix of answers, ranging from “I can’t wait” to “super anxious”. A lot of people appear to be nervous about how difficult it will be to adjust to socialising again, especially in big groups. However, there were also comments on mental health improving, with one person saying: “I’m looking forward to it. Having a routine and going to campus is hugely beneficial to my mental health, as well as seeing people.”

Generally, it appeared that while many people are excited for post-Corona life, there is still understandable worries about how things will be; how going back to in-person classes will feel, how adapting to normal routines will be tiring.

This apprehension was really revealed in the fact that out of the 34 people who answered the final question of “Are you apprehensive about returning to normal, and if so, about what?” twenty-five responded with yes, and with reasons. The main consensus appeared to be that students are worried about having busy social lives again, and the fear of not being able to balance this alongside their university work. It might be said that this year has been a chance to slow down and prioritise university rather than a busy social life, and going back to seeing friends more (maybe than ever) alongside balancing degrees will be difficult. A lot of the respondents were second years when the pandemic was declared, so jumping into fourth year, and especially back to campus-life, will be a huge adjustment.

Someone wrote, “It will be hard to go back to normal because we are not used to it anymore.” This final comment perhaps summarises the feelings of many. With the past years of rules and restrictions and online university, the idea of walking into a lecture theatre or a pub may seem foreign to us. It could be said that the fears and apprehensions for the coming months are understandable, and perhaps rooted in the unknown. We don’t know what to expect, and the thought of adjusting to old ways or an even “newer normal” rightfully provokes both excitement and nerves.


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