September marks the return for students to University, combined with the arrival of many new faces who are experiencing higher education for the very first time. It provides opportunities to see old faces, meet new ones and settle down into the year with a sense of excitement and intrigue about what you might be studying. This intrigue is undeniably fuelled by in person lectures and seminars, whereby individuals can interact with peers in a meaningful and profound manner. Conversing with others at a face-to-face level has multiple benefits for both students and lecturers alike, with University staff able to connect with students in a deeper way and grasp the different needs and motivations of each person. This evidently has academic and educational merit when applied to the notion of challenging and pushing each student to do as well as they can. In person lectures and seminars can be productive social activities as well, in a sense forcing students to go and explore their campus and push them somewhat out of their comfort zone. Having a timetable which tells you that you’re required to be somewhere on campus at a certain time provides structure for the day, and means you may interact with people, places and opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t have.
Online teaching sits in direct contrast with the benefits of in person lectures and seminars. This is not to say that Online teaching is absolutely redundant, for it provides a great opportunity for students to catch up on their University material and allows those who aren’t in Leeds to access their work. Indeed, over the course of the pandemic, online teaching has allowed students to continue their studies in the most acceptable and accessible format, at a time when the holding of in person lectures and seminars was not one which could be practically played out.
Online teaching has its benefits, but cannot be the main source of education from a University that is truly committed to student welfare and experience. It means that those with superior WiFi or technology, household living standards or access to space have an extra advantage over those who do not, immediately creating a disparity between students who can afford these things and those who cannot, meaning that academic result is weighted more on personal financial situation than the content of ones argument or ability to study. Furthermore, the use of Online teaching as the primary teaching source leaves many students living a solitude and often lonely existence. It takes away the incentive to leave the house completely, making it easier to exist solely in your bedroom and essentially interact with little in the outside world. There are technological issues, server problems, updates needed constantly and difficulties with access for many, which ultimately make it a lesser form of education. I argue that it’s not a controversial statement to state students would as a whole prefer in person teaching opposed to sitting in their room whilst listening to their lecturers voice cut in and out through a Microsoft Teams meeting which lacks any sense of engagement.
I currently haven’t discussed the value for money viewpoint, but in reality it speaks for itself. Having a majority of University education delivered through an online format is not worth nine and a half thousand pounds a year. Students know this, the University knows this, lecturers know this. Arguing otherwise verges on stupidity. You may as well forfeit your student loan and use YouTube videos to reach a high level of education over a three year period. You would probably have less technical difficulties if you did so, plus be much less in debt.
The University line is that they are employing a ‘blended’ approach to online learning, incorporating both the two forms of learning in a way which will allow students to have the best of both worlds. Personally, it sounds like this gives them the opportunity to substitute in person learning with online teaching, without giving specific detail about exactly how much in person teaching each student will receive. I understand that it’s a complex issue with multiple factors at play, but more information and exact planning would be useful to students who are concerned about the content and structure of their learning experience. The pandemic is ongoing, and the University has certain responsibilities, but students deserve to gain from the real and profound benefits that in person teaching provides.
Featured Image: The Times