Every morning, upon the blare of the alarm at 7.30 sharp, I drag myself out of bed, pull back the desk chair, and open up my laptop. Within five minutes I’m watching a lecture recorded the day before. I pause it, rewind it, copy and paste notes directly from the slideshow. I make myself a cup of coffee in the middle, I research a historian’s name mentioned as an aside. And then I ring a friend to discuss the topics raised.
No long walks from lecture hall to lecture hall, no time wasted leaving to arrive early, no misunderstandings or falling behind on notes. Simple, accessible, immediate, independent. And all from the comfort of my bedroom.
As a first year university student, I don’t know any different – my journey into higher education has undeniably been defined by coronavirus. Tales of the ‘olden golden days’ from third years about in-person learning and open libraries go straight over my head. I cannot understand their nostalgia for the lecture halls filled to the brim, nor the benefits they claim of seeing the lecturer stand right in front of you.
As early as May, Cambridge University announced that they were moving all lectures online for the following academic year, and the rest of British universities soon followed suit. Many have now adopted a ‘blended learning’ approach, with a mixture of in person seminars and online tutorials. I have personally seen tutorials on Zoom, lectures as podcasts, and seminars with two metres between each person - every and any combination of online and face to face teaching you can think of.
But the form of education that universities are undertaking during Covid-19 is still under review and debate.The Times Higher Education Student Success Forum 2020 on the 18th September had keynote speeches, panel discussions and workshops which addressed how best to manage learning during a pandemic. Chris Havergal, the Times Higher Education news editor, especially focussed on how to make online learning an equitable experience for all students, talking about how equal access is of the utmost importance. But it was really Anant Agarwal, founder and CEO of digital learning platform edX, who highlighted the key theme of the conference: “For university leaders, my advice would be to seize the moment. Blended learning will become the new normal so online learning and in-person learning will coexist on your campuses.”
I have indeed found that blended learning has offered up new opportunities. I’m definitely better at time management, and at motivating myself to work. And I love pausing a lecture to pop out for a coffee. I feel there is so much more independence within my university experience.
So while you can’t disregard the benefits of small group in-person teaching, without the interruptions of static from Zoom, blended learning may be here to stay. And perhaps it could be the solution to creating flexibility for students and for professors alike, both during Covid-19, and beyond.