Worst semester ever? Term 1 2020 reviewed

Elizabeth Meade describes her frustrating experience of semester 1 at university amidst the global pandemic.

Elizabeth Meade
21st December 2020
I've always had some complaints about school. From home school, to Montessori, to the US public school system, to the IB Programme, to a Russell Group university in the UK, I've seen it all. No school is perfect. So believe me when I say that this year is definitely a contender for the (dis)honourable title of Worst School Year Ever (in the context of school years that current students have experienced, from the late 90's to today).

Lots of students have been unhappy about online teaching, and with good cause. Online teaching doesn't come close to capturing the best parts of a university education. If you're doing a chemistry (or similar) course like myself, there's no more live labs, no sitting together at a table to do tutorials and no going to the library to quiz each other on the material in a spirit of friendly competition before exams. Online lectures are mostly composed of slides with a recording over them, which don't do justice to our lecturers' live presentation skills that both engage us and display their passion for the material.

What's more, there is no set schedule to lecture material anymore. Although some lecturers try to release content on certain days, new slides can drop at any time. The school/life boundaries have been crossed as content which has normally been engaged with and consumed on-campus has intruded into our home life. On one hand, I enjoy my course and am glad that I can still engage with it under lockdown. On the other hand, time spent at home has always been my own private time, so constantly having to engage with university while in my own living room is a bit violating. It's simply harder to remain aware of responsibilities and deadlines when there is no set schedule or structure for what we are doing, and content has strayed from the hour-long lecture format into videos of various lengths that contain different amounts each week. I don't blame the lecturers for the video discrepancies because they've never had to present things this way before, but it's certainly difficult to adapt to.

Constantly having to engage with university while in my own living room is a bit violating

On top of it all though, being expected to engage with all of this material (which is more compacted and coming at us faster than before due to the late start) during a global pandemic is just unrealistic. There's the challenge of navigating restrictions while doing all of the normal things that we have to do as students (shopping for groceries, jobs, taking care of loved ones, voting and paying bills) which take more physical and mental energy to figure out given the huge change in the format of virtually all activities and services. We are also constantly overwhelmed with worry about friends and family who have contracted COVID-19 or are at risk of contracting it, on top of processing the genuine grief that comes with the deaths of millions, some of whom we knew, due to the spread of the virus that could have been better controlled, but wasn't.

We are also constantly overwhelmed with worry about friends and family who have contracted COVID-19 or are at risk of contracting it

All that I've learned from this crisis is that I was right about the selfishness, entitlement and disconnect with both students' needs and society as a whole that I've observed among educational institutions over the years. While I don't blame individual professors for this because they are ultimately in the same situation (having to adapt to an unpredictable situation), the university's lack of receptiveness to students' demands-and their limited receptiveness which generally presents itself as too little, too late is incredibly disappointing, especially for such a highly-ranked institution that prides itself on setting high standards for student experience. Their expectation that students will have an equivalent experience to years before, agree that their online education is of a similar monetary value to face-to-face teaching without complaint and be able to genuinely learn and process information in the same way during a time of mass grief is at best hopelessly overoptimistic and at worst wilfully ignorant and an attempt to slack off on student needs while still collecting the same profit.

The university's lack of receptiveness to students' demands-and their limited receptiveness which generally presents itself as too little, too late is incredibly disappointing

In conclusion, Semester 1 of 2020/2021 has been one of the worst ever, because nothing compensates for a global pandemic that has killed millions and irrevocably changed the lives of millions more.

Featured image- Pixabay @HaticeEROL

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