School and college closures have resulted in an almost overnight switch from face-to-face classes to learning online.
Looming over the entire enterprise is a cloud of fear and urgency: it is critical that remote learning succeeds if students are to avoid setbacks.
Colleges have been keen to emphasise that special measures will be taken to ensure exam candidates do not lose out as a result.
However, many who face challenging or stressful circumstances worry that they are falling behind and their grades will suffer.
The Irish Times asked students to share their experiences of online learning so far. Here is a selection of their responses:
- Carl O'Brien, Education Editor
‘Lagging wifi and internet freezes’
Caileigh Ryan, creative writing M.Phil student at TCD
“Online classes aren’t a great substitute for in-person seminars. Lagging wifi means missing out on chunks of conversation when the internet freezes, and the atmosphere and learning environment is not the same as sitting in a classroom with lecturers and classmates.”
‘It’s difficult to concentrate online’
Niamh Elliott-Sheridan, gender and women’s studies M.Phil student at TCD
“I’m finding it very difficult to concentrate in them [online lectures]. Being in a non-designated space like a classroom means I get easily distracted, go on my phone more, might open new tabs in the computer.
“They’re a good effort and I’ll take it, it’s the best that we can do, but there is definitely a different energy.”
‘Many lecturers aren’t providing support’
Anonymous final year student, DCU
“There are some lecturers who should be highly commended for their actions in this situation. For example, there are some that ensure all lectures are occurring over Zoom, providing support over email, providing additional support through forums, replacing office hours with Zoom meetings and accommodating larger groups by doing 1-3 Zoom sessions.
“However, there are many, many lecturers who are not. They are piling on additional work, ridiculous updated requirements and have yet to take into consideration that we do not have the capabilities to keep up with the same work level. Furthermore, the same lecturers are not providing the equivalent of in-class support in order to answer questions, or to provide digital versions of office hour meeting times, or to provide sufficient support by email. A lot are making it harder rather than easier.”
‘The online classes are helpful, but I miss the library’
Brian Mac Court, economics, politics and law student at DCU
“I’m actually finding the online classes really helpful. I like that they come with the added ability of being able to look over the slides multiple times. I think the college and the lecturers have been exceptional at providing the best possible education that they can in these circumstances, so I think they deserve credit for that. The interactivity varies by class, as some are not live streaming and instead uploaded with voice overs for slides, so that is a small issue.
“I think that while this is sufficient for now and necessary, college is an interactive and social experience. People’s home life is also not always suitable for productivity or concentration, and while mine is not the worst, houses can be noisy and distracting places. I’m writing my dissertation at the moment, and I really miss the library, getting up and going somewhere quiet, and having a mental and physical separation between academic and home life.”
‘It’s hard to find inspiration and motivation’
Anonymous student at NCAD
“Zoom classes are great but not having the workshops and specialised tutors there to help us is tough. Especially in final year, we have our degree show at the end of this college year, and it looks like that won’t be going ahead which is making it hard to have any motivation to work.
“It’s also so hard as an art student to find the inspiration and motivation and to get our creative juices flowing being stuck in our house all day. I know for me, and most people in my year, we won’t be able to achieve what we wanted to in our final end of year pieces which is devastating for us.
After three-four years of working towards this, it’s hard to not be able to put our best work forward at the end of it all, because we couldn’t access our studio and workshops.”
‘Online classes at home give me less stress’
Minhwa Shin, business student at CCT College Dublin
“I currently live in the suburbs, and commuting by bus in the morning takes me on average about an hour to get to college. Therefore, having online classes at home gives me less stress in the morning and helps me to organise my daily schedule more efficiently.
“Also, each class is recorded and uploaded to the college site, so I can look up the classes again whenever I need them. However, I find myself getting easily distracted by my surroundings, especially on the laptop. If I am losing interest in the class or if I want to have a look at something else, I can access different tabs while I attend the online classes.”
'Classes are entirely dependent on a strong internet connection'
Sela Garza, Trinity College Dublin
“The potential complications that lie with virtual classes are, unfortunately, largely out of the control of universities. These classes are entirely dependent on a strong internet connection, which varies depending on an individual’s broadband package and proximity to a router, as well as how many people are online at one time (both within the app, as well as across the internet).
"Internet providers all over the world are struggling right now to accommodate this sudden surge online as we all switch to working and learning remotely, not to mention the increased usage of streaming services like Netflix.
“I find it helps my Zoom connection when I disconnect my phone and other devices from the WiFi network - but this does not always solve the problem of network latency. On the other end of the spectrum entirely, some students may lack adequate internet access altogether, or even a home computer. In these scenarios, maintaining any semblance of a learning environment would be nearly impossible.”
‘The situation is a little bit stressful’
Ryan Jones, mechanical engineering student at TU Dublin, Bolton Street
“ We’ve received some emails from some of our lecturers telling us some topics we should revise while the college is closed. We have also received some emails from staff in the college basically telling us that they are working on solutions to finish our learning and exams for this semester.
“At the moment we have been told that a couple of our summer exams will be held online, but there are still some subjects we are waiting to be updated on. The situation is a little bit stressful, and although there are still some questions unanswered, we have still been kept up to date with the fact that the lecturers are holding daily meetings to come up with solutions that will benefit us.”
‘It seems sub-optimal as a substitute for in-person clinical training’
Talal Almas, medicine, RCSI
“While online teaching affords an increased degree of flexibility and draws heavily on personal intuition, it seems sub-optimal as a substitute for in-person clinical training.
“Seeing a slate of medical conditions vicariously, while it is our best bet for the time being, often does not suffice, since doctors are trusted to discern physical findings very adeptly, and virtual exposure therefore feels insufficient. Thus, the efficacy of online teaching, in my personal view, depends on two significant variables: the degree of personal motivation, and the field of study, both of which are invaluable in determining the benefit that countless students like myself can derive from virtual learning.”