We thought it would be helpful to talk to current students who are studying hybrid or online third-level courses , to show what students could expect this autumn. Mary Flood is in the final year of studying an Accelerated Masters in Physiotherapy at UCC.
Can you describe how the course is delivered?
The course has transitioned online since March 2019. Lectures are delivered by video conference or via PowerPoint presentation with voice-overs. Tutorials which would usually involve mixtures of practical skills, group work and interactive discussion are now delivered via video conference in small groups. Unfortunately the practical-skills element, which are a critical component of the MSc Physiotherapy programme, have been a casualty of Covid-19, but plans are in place to cover this content in a safe way during the upcoming semester.
A major component of our learning is through clinical placements, we do more than 1,000 hours of clinical placement across the programme. Unfortunately, placements had to be rescheduled due to Covid-19, thankfully placements are starting back up again. However, Covid-19 has impacted on what we can do on placement – things that we previously took for granted are not possible.
What do you think of the virtual environment?
Virtual learning is working for me and my circumstances, but is not without its unique challenges. Keeping a routine, minimising distractions at home and maintaining motivation are skills that are continuously being developed. Socialisation with classmates, the general bustle of campus and its amenities has been forfeited. The practical skills necessary for our career are, regrettably, incompatible with virtual learning and can only be mastered through genuine practice.
Equally, there are many positives. The opportunity to move home to my family was a considerable relief financially. The daily all-weather cycle to college is a distant memory and the five-hours’ worth of weekend travel has been reclaimed for better use.
Prerecorded lectures have suited my learning style. I take the opportunity to pause, reflect, and make notes at my own pace, which helps during revision. I find myself better prepared for class, which has translated to more informed questioning and understanding.
What does your typical day look like?
Once we transitioned to online learning, I decided to stick to my previous routine, as closely as possible, by beginning the day at 9am. The day is shaped by the number of timetabled classes. Outside of scheduled contact, I complete preparatory work for tutorials, collaborate with my classmates virtually for groupwork and tackle recommended reading lists. I set myself a goal of how much work I’d like to get through that day, occasionally discovering I’m overly ambitious. I set aside an hour for lunch and depending on how immersed I am in my work, I’ll finish up between 4-5pm to get some exercise and dinner.
I’m back at my desk around 7pm. Some days are more demanding with looming deadlines which necessitates working late, but I try strike a balance by finishing earlier on days which are more forgiving. Once I’m satisfied with my work, I log off and tend to some hobbies to unwind.
How do you submit assessments/do exams?
Assignments are submitted through our online learning platform at UCC called Canvas. Due to Covid-19, our last set of exams took place online, in various formats, with the most common being through video conference using an oral exam or viva.
How do you interact with fellow students?
Our interaction is limited to video calls and messaging for now, but I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again, albeit in a restricted capacity, to cover practical elements of our coursework.
Is it easy to interact with tutors/lecturers?
Our small class group helps facilitate regular interaction with tutors. From the beginning of our studies we were individually assigned a personal academic tutor whom we meet with over the semester to discuss how we are getting on with the programme and how college life is going. This, along with the general approachability of tutors has helped develop a strong interactive relationship between us. We are always encouraged to ask questions and communicate, with this being emphasised even more so since the transition to online learning.
Any tips for incoming first year students?
In these strange times, adaptability is an essential skill. Create a routine which will be applicable to both a physical and a virtual learning environment to help give some sense of stability to your day.
In a virtual learning environment, informal questioning of classmates and tutors can be limited. Don’t overthink reaching out and contacting someone if you have a question.
It’s easy to shy away from interacting with people in these times, but get involved in any initiatives your college organises to promote social interaction among students. A good friend network gives a sense of community and reassurance, which is welcome through any big transition in life!