A defence of in-person lectures

Being a student in the 2020s has so far been defined by the pandemic, which has fundamentally hurt an entire generation’s life chances from early and to higher education. Technology, however, has been our saviour, so criticism at the technological platforms themselves is misplaced. Online platforms, like the implementation of lockdown to prevent outbreaks, did successfully provide certainty and continuity for essential services albeit temporary.

Online learning was an imperfect, imprecise solution only appropriate as a short-term measure. Yet due to bureaucracy and outright deceit, online learning has now been forced upon students to replace lectures; irrevocably limiting the university experience, undemocratically undermining student choice and in my opinion, criminally misleading current paying students to an unforgivable, contemptible extent.

Online learning suits some people, and it definitely has intrinsic positives that moving forward should be built upon but in a transparent manner. The justification for original online learning last September was not to improve student educational outcomes or to lessen anyone’s workloads, it was to avoid infections. Forced online learning was a crucial sacrifice at the time, however, it is now ill-fitting and reproachful when currently all of Britain’s over 18-year-olds can book jabs meaning campus by mid-autumn should be securely protected.

It was the government’s woeful negligence regarding the fate of university students in conjunction with incompetent university management which resulted in the veneer of academia being torn up. The university experience – mental health, development, learning and socialisation – has certainly been significantly impaired as of late, but due to technology, university has not been brought to a standstill. What actually has been demonstrated is the importance of what makes university special, personal and memorable which does include large groups of adults willing to learn in one place and face-to-face. A privilege and part of the deal why people like me chose further education and chose university.

There is an art, value and efficiency that comes from a strong, well-executed lecture. Enduring as a tradition not because it has always been done, as I have heard from ideological careerist university managerialists myself, but because lectures can give students so much. They introduce individuals to the wider community from their narrow seminar group, encourage conversation and enable socialisation. Further, coping with lecture is a skill itself, transferable to all those situations where we can’t just record or pause life. The thought of denying in-person lectures next year to new students produces bile in my stomach and disgust at the selfishness of university management.

I know how I learn best and don’t need to be belittled or ignored like students have been with no actual consultation. Personally, I remember so much better a physical learning experience than the blur of computers with its wearing screen time strain. Similar to the shift to online working from home in the workplace, there needs to be choice and flexibility. Universities can provide and lead on this, although contingent upon sensible leadership. It’s great if you gain more from online lectures. Therefore, the system should cover those on campus and those not, with recorded lectures, dual engagement monitoring and always defending the original disability inclusivity which promotes everyone attending in-person if they want.

The University made a premature decision that was without a doubt going to be unpopular. The individuals involved with this choice-denying policy should realise that flash ‘modernising’ agendas comes far below looking after and honouring the financial promises made to adult students. University league tables are a legitimate concern and the much self-flogged Russell Group ‘brand’ become even more hollow if the ‘uni of-s’ retain their status even when they offer students less. Legislation needs to keep up to prevent organisations and/or companies such as the University of Leeds from exploiting their customers by extending the parameters of this crisis so they can pretend that they are still giving students what was contractually agreed on. Respect all students from all subjects with rigorous consultation to uphold what should be outstanding standards and deep respect to the student population who deserve at least co-operation for their patience.   

Séamus O’Hanlon

Image source: Pixabay