I’m quite unhappy with how my life turned out. Well, an actual adult might argue that at the age of 20, your life hasn’t taken its final turn and stagnated yet. Life will still be changing into new, exciting forms, like an exotic snake shedding its skin. However, the “New Normal” consists of the daily task of dragging yourself out of bed past noon, only to find yourself still stuck inside that mildly mouldy and funny-smelling student accommodation. Another episode of the constant quest for something to fill a seemingly meaningless day – apart from staring into a laptop screen on the 11th hour and wondering what to do in between meals. It most definitely feels like that final, indefinite stage.
I searched for “blend of face-to-face teaching” in my email inbox and got 10 results. That’s all the times over summer the University promised we could come into uni at least a few times a week; to see tutors, friends, coursemates, and maybe even catch a glimpse of a lecture hall crush. Despite this utopian promise, that even at the time seemed unreasonably optimistic, I only gained entry to one of our beloved university buildings a singular time, before another email cancelled all in-person teaching again. Even though the University had half a year to plan how they would welcome students back onto campus and provide a safe learning environment for both staff and students, they failed. Teaching quickly had to be moved online; a nine grand subscription service with not a single rom-com.
But why is it so crucial for students to be allowed face-to-face teaching? Most of the time last year, one would hear students complaining about their 9am lecture on a crisp Thursday morning after ROAR. Protesting so loudly that even farmers in the Peaks had to cover their ears when students had to drag themselves to the opposite side of campus for a three-hour seminar. We may have despised parts of it back then. Still, it’s now when you are chained to your laptop and put behind bars in your own house, that you recognise the positive impact in-person teaching actually had on your life. Firstly, face-to-face teaching covers some of the basic social needs of a human being. It gives you the chance to see the rest of the passengers of this ramshackle ship known as your degree, so that you can ask each other questions, talk about the course work, or just send a friendly nod to that gal you met back in freshers, but can’t remember the name of. It reminds you that your coursemates are real, decent people, and not just grey, faceless avatars only existing within Blackboard Collaborate.
Looking past the social aspects of face-to-face teaching, one must also consider the actual learning outcome of solely having online seminars and lectures. How much can be learnt in a seminar of deafening silence leaving questions unanswered? Or from the unstable internet connection, the glitching videos and faulty microphones? What about when you’re stranded in a Breakout room with only your computer coursemates and the anxiety-inducing awkwardness? We can only dream of the times when figuring out how to turn the smartboard on was our biggest technological issue.
However, above all, it needs to be safe. It doesn’t matter if you’ve tried to pull your hair out and push your flatmate out the window before midday – we simply cannot fully return to campus before it’s safe enough for both students and staff to stay in the same room without the severe risk of catching the virus. The University must be able to provide this, and we can only hope that they have spent this past week more efficiently than the disappointing first half of the year, and that we can get back into classrooms, even behind facemasks and at a more generous distance. Online uni is rougher than any of us might have expected. “Character-building” is what I will refer to it as in future job interviews, rather than “the period in my life where I didn’t shower for four days straight and spent half my student loan on greasy takeaways that I ate in bed with the humming of my online lecture as background noise”.