For young people attending university at the height of the COVID pandemic, the university experience was suddenly radically different than expected.
Classes quickly moved online, and students had to adjust to using digital tools to complete their learning at home. Those looking forward to campus life saw instead that social and extracurricular activities were curtailed. Meanwhile, internship and internship opportunities were often lost.
It was and is important to understand the impact of these changes on university students. In my research during the pandemic, I examined the impact of this shift to virtual learning on the student experience.
Here are three key takeaways from my research, which involved interviewing 349 university students from across the UK.
1. Students want interactive online learning
A theme that was penetrated by several participants was that online teaching should be more interactive. According to one respondent:
“It is not enough to simply place lecture notes on a VLE [virtual learning environment] and consider that this is a suitable substitute for learned experience.”
Another said educators should “be more interactive with students outside of delivering digital lectures,” noting that this could include online communication tools or video conferencing applications “to ensure that.” [are] certain personal connections are still made.”
Similarly, another student reported creating “more opportunities for student interactions” and “a better online community.”
Recent research has shown that there can be a lack of motivation among students when studying online. To address this, instructors could use real-time polling tools like Mentimeter and Kahoot! that can make online learning more engaging and interactive.
2. Digital education must be inclusive
Some female students faced greater challenges than their male counterparts in transitioning to virtual learning. Older female students were hardest hit, with many noting that additional responsibilities such as caring for children or disabled family members made the situation more difficult.
One respondent spoke of the difficulty of “finding time for college work in a full, busy and noisy household”. Another said:
“The university wasn’t very good with students who have families. I had exams with a toddler hanging from my waist. It would have been fine if I had been a student with no children, but I feel like nobody really addressed the challenges we faced as students with a young family at home.”
Some older female students also did not feel properly equipped to use online learning tools, commenting for example that ‘the older generation needs to be more technologically prepared’.
Another student highlighted the cost of the equipment, noting that “if you don’t have a laptop you seem to struggle to pass”.
Rather than assuming everyone is adequately resourced, universities should ensure students have the necessary knowledge, support and digital resources for online learning and exams. It is important to ensure that students have appropriate hardware and software and internet access.
Access to technology must be distributed equitably, paying particular attention to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and international students.
In the meantime, universities that don’t already do this should offer flexible learning options, e.g. B. the ability to attend live virtual lectures or listen to recorded lectures.
3. International students may need extra attention
The changes in the university experience caused by the pandemic hit overseas students particularly hard.
International students cited issues such as not having access to appropriate areas of study, not knowing where to turn for mental health support, feeling trapped and isolated, difficulty concentrating, disorientation and the difficulty of being away from their families at home, all affected by COVID. Comments included:
“The separation from my family has caused me so much stress and depression that I cannot focus clearly on my studies. We paid tuition for support, not to ‘find out’.”
While universities struggled to communicate with international students during this period, my research suggests that in many cases these messages were lost in translation and support was not adequate.
In times of crisis, university communication with foreign students must be improved. Universities have a duty of care and responsibility to international students, which should include helping them adapt to academic demands and prioritizing their mental health and well-being.
The way forward
Some students wanted to continue learning online, or at least saw potential benefits in the digital model.
“In general, being off campus has been quite comfortable as not only has it cut the hours of the train ride… I’m someone who prefers to work alone, so it was good not having other people to distract me .”
For example, students who reported some level of social anxiety also preferred the digital model.
However, a number of students felt that the on-campus experience was preferable to online learning. One commented that “human relationships and face-to-face interactions remain the unique characteristics that the online world cannot match”. Others said:
“Many students would not benefit from a complete online switch, otherwise we would not have opted for the option of going to a traditional university. I like the social aspect of the course and the face-to-face teaching. [With online learning] I feel like I’m not learning anything, just memorizing information.”
The universities have now resumed face-to-face teaching. Some may return to on-campus learning entirely, while many continue with a hybrid model. What is best is hard to know. From my research and that of others, it appears that different students have different preferences.
Nonetheless, these findings will hopefully be useful for universities that continue to teach fully or partially online. More broadly, insights into university student experiences during the pandemic could help universities better manage future crises.
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Citation: In 2020, universities switched to online learning. Three Lessons from Student Experiences (2022, November 18), retrieved November 18, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-11-universities-shifted-online-lessons-students.html
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