Learning at home: how are the students coping?

Undergraduates tell us their views on their universities’ responses to the coronavirus outbreak

When the coronavirus crisis forced universities to suspend face-to-face teaching, millions of students packed up their books and laptops, unpeeled their posters from the walls, and said goodbye to their university homes, lecturers and friends until at least September.

University Business checked in with a cross-section of them, to find out how they feel their university handled the crisis, and how they are adjusting to learning at home.

‘A huge blow and an abrupt end to an otherwise cheerful year’

Livy Derrington, second-year English literature student at the University of Exeter

Communications from the university formally began on 25 February, providing daily updates on the virus. For me, Exeter has done an excellent job at keeping the students updated – perhaps their only fault was telling students that teaching would be taken to an online platform, but only one day later advised us to leave.

The online portal that the teaching will be conducted on is one familiar to all students, but as exams are cancelled and are being taken online, it does throw up issues for students in different time zones, as well as problems regarding poor wifi connections.

Add to this a period of four-week strikes, a lack of content that has been taught and the unanswered examination problems, the situation has created a sense of trepidation amongst most of the student body.
The problem comes with graduating and potentially entering a world with little to no work opportunities
The biggest conversations at the moment seem to be on the real threat to the families around us. Many of my housemates and I have elderly grandparents and even friends with compromised immune systems.
For people I know in the third year, the problem comes with graduating and potentially entering a world with little to no work opportunities. In addition, I have booked three festivals and a summer holiday which look unlikely to go ahead. It is very true that young people are not as much at risk, but the knock-on effect of the virus to the world we are entering into is extreme, as well the imminent threat to our loved ones.
As I left university, I hadn’t really appreciated the fact that I may not now see my friends until September, possibly even longer with current news that is circulating.
I feel as though my second year has been cut short, a huge blow as I won’t be living with some of my housemates next year. For the people that are taking placements abroad next academic year, their future looks very uncertain and we were unsure whether to say goodbye for good. All in all, it seems a very unresolved and an abrupt end to an otherwise cheerful year.
For the people that are taking placements abroad next academic year, their future looks very uncertain
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

‘I’m worried about missing out on learning experiences by not being on placement’

Amy Oldfield, third-year medical student at the University of Leicester

I feel overall the university has kept us well informed, with regular emails to update us on the situation.

As I’m studying medicine I’m meant to be on placement, so there isn’t much new learning I can do at home apart from consolidating topics I have already covered on previous placements.

The medical school’s current plan is for us to resume placement in May and then sit our exam in July, however myself and other students feel this is unrealistic

I believe it was the right decision to cancel our placement for the time being as we need to be implementing social distancing and we are not vital staff.

We are currently not sure if we will be sitting our exams.

The medical school’s current plan is for us to resume placement in May and then sit our exam in July, however myself and other students feel this is unrealistic. The university said they would review this in three to four weeks.

I’m worried about missing out on learning experiences by not being on placement, and that we may have to sit our exams when we are not fully prepared. I hope that both the university and medical school will keep us updated as much as possible so that we know what to expect from the months ahead.

‘Still a lot of opportunity for cross-contamination up until this point’

Bella Meadows, third-year music student at Trinity Laban Conservatoire 
Trinity Laban Conservatoire has been pretty laid back in terms of handling coronavirus in comparison to other music schools/universities I’ve heard about. A hand sanitising station was the one precaution they had put in place from around late February until last Monday, when they made the decision to stop face-to-face teaching.
But even then, they kept the building open until this week without disinfecting it or doing a deep clean, so still a lot of opportunity for cross-contamination up until this point.
Learning from home is fine, most of my homework is just practice determined by me, which I can do wherever I am.
Trinity Laban Conservatoire has been pretty laid back in terms of handling coronavirus
My exams are either essays, compositions (easily submitted online via Word docs, scores and audio files) or practical – a performance, which is a little more difficult to do from home but I’m still able to video and record myself and send it in. At the moment teachers are communicating to us either by email or through Moodle, which I have used since the first year – so I’m used to using it and that’s where we submit our assignments and get set tasks. It’s all pretty straight forward in that sense.
My main worry in terms of my education during quarantine is that my course has a big onus on playing and interacting with other people. Through this you can build musical relationships and gain the experience of playing within multiple line-ups and bands. It is an essential part of being a musician and building and strengthening your contacts for collaborations and gigs – that’s how we make our living.
So, that is a big concern, but I am still talking to them and sending music back and forth online, so am coping as well as I can!
Photo by Steinar Engeland/Unsplash

‘The response from my university has been helpful and informative’

Edward Osmond, third-year medical student at Newcastle University

I have been receiving daily advice from both the medical school and the central university. Right from the outset, I feel the university reacted quickly and decisively, and normally in a transparent way. As medical students, we have been told that the priority is for final year students so our placements and exams have been postponed indefinitely and will be picked up in the fourth year. Although it is disappointing to have the year cut so short, I can appreciate the severity of the situation and understand why the decision has been made.
There was some concern as to whether we’d be adequately prepared to progress to next year, but the medical school has been quick to assure us that learning material will be made available on our existing medical learning environment (MLE), which is already very good.
There is, however, some confusion as other medical schools seem to be tackling the problem differently, including the use of online teaching and assessment.
Right from the outset, I feel the university reacted quickly and decisively, and normally in a transparent way
FAQs and travel advice have also been uploaded to the MLE, and the medical school has contacted us individually to ask whether we will be remaining in Newcastle and if we need any specific support.
Although sometimes less relevant to me, the general information from Newcastle University has been very comprehensive. Overall, I feel the response from my university has been helpful and informative.
The third year almost entirely takes place in hospitals with teaching from practising clinicians, which is presumably the main reason why we can’t carry on. The majority of teaching this year took place pre-Christmas so that makes the situation less worrying.
Last week we were about two-thirds of the way through the second of our three six-week placements post-Christmas, so all of us have missed out on teaching in one of mental health, reproductive health, or children’s health depending on which group we’re in. Personally, I think it’s a shame that I am going to miss out on six weeks of hands-on experience in paediatrics, but we’ve been assured that we will be able to make up for lost time next year.
Emotionally I’ve been absolutely fine, but it’s been slightly difficult because I have actually been self-isolating since 11 March!
Some names have been changed
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