It’s become a cliche, but we are really living through an unprecedented time. As a biomedical student in my second year at the University of Birmingham, I’ve experienced huge upheaval over the last three months. Since March, I’ve gone from attending lectures and seminars on campus to learning remotely from another city, and facing the prospect of a final term without ever stepping foot in a university building.
Even before the government announced lockdown measures my university had started to implement changes. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for hundreds of students to follow government social distancing guidelines on campus, so Birmingham began to introduce more remote learning options in order to make sure that we could continue to learn safely.
When lockdown did come into effect, myself and the vast majority of my fellow students headed home, with the understanding that we most likely wouldn’t be back again until September. It was definitely the safest move, but it was stressful thinking about how I was going to be able to finish my modules and progress into my final year. I’m lucky that I have the option to go back to my parents’ house and study from there, but it’s a world away from my routine on campus.
Something that’s definitely helped with the transition from uni to home learning has been the fact that all my courses are set up on Canvas. A lot of my course material was already on there from the first term, but as soon as it was announced that our exams were cancelled my lecturers uploaded all the resources we’d need for the rest of the year. I’ve got a big piece of bridging coursework coming up next term which I’m now preparing for with everything that they’ve made available to us, including lecture notes, recordings and course guides.
But it’s not just the feeling of being campus that is missing, it’s also the people. As a student I’m used to being able to chat to my course friends about a lab experiment we’re running, or speak to my lecturer if I didn’t understand something from a lecture. It’s never going to be possible to completely replicate this part of our uni life remotely, but having Canvas available gets us pretty close. The discussion boards in particular have been amazingly useful - we can post any course or lecture questions we have, and our lecturers can respond for everyone to see in the same way as if we were in a lecture hall.
Beyond just the learning aspect of uni, I feel like tech has also helped keep us together as a student body, even when we’re scattered all over the country. Birmingham has been really good about sending through regular updates about how they’re dealing with the impact of Covid-19, as well as just general mental health support to help us cope with what is a pretty stressful and emotional time.
I’m not sure yet when I’ll be able to go back to campus again, and even when I do there’s no way of knowing when uni life will be totally back to normal. I’m expecting that there will still be a focus on remote learning when we get back, especially if we’re not allowed to gather in large lecture groups or go to communal spaces like the library. I also know that a lot of us are thinking about what is going to happen once we leave uni, with the possibility that the economy and jobs might be significantly impacted by the pandemic.
For now though, it’s reassuring to know that I’m still able to work towards getting my degree from home. A lot of things are up in the air, but my university has been really supportive throughout it all, and having a VLE that works well means I’ve never had to worry about losing access to the documents and resources I need to keep learning.
Ellie, University of Birmingham Student