Universities across the globe have spent the last few months revisiting the design of course programmes not only to address how they can continue teaching while keeping their staff and students safe but also to ensure that the highest academic standards are met.
What few may realise is that not all courses needed to be revisited as plenty were already being delivered using virtual or online tools. In many cases these will have been used as a template for the delivery of previously mainly-offline courses.
We thought it would be instructive to talk to one student who has completed a blended learning course to show what students might expect this autumn.
Ciara Ramsbottom has just completed her final year at DCU.
What course did you study?
I have just completed my final year of BCL (Clinical) Law and Society in Dublin City University (DCU).
Can you describe how it was delivered?
BCL is delivered through hybrid, blended learning with some lectures taking place online and other smaller lectures and tutorials taking place on DCU's Glasnevin campus. For example, BCL's 'Moot Court' module (which teaches practical legal skills), face-to-face interaction with peers and lecturers is vital so lectures and tutorials for this module would be held on campus.
What do you think of the virtual environment – does it work for you?
I enjoy virtual learning for the most part as it offers flexibility that I have never had before. I’m not a big fan of 9am lectures and now with lectures being recorded and posted on Loop, DCU’s student portal, I can watch them at my own leisure if I end up hitting snooze on my alarm too many times. It also brings flexibility to other parts of life, such as being able to work different days during the week instead of limiting myself to weekend work as would have been the case before.
What does your typical day look like?
My day usually involves attending lectures via Zoom or catching up on any lectures that I missed, writing out notes for my modules and getting in an hour or two of study. I am the "Moot Court Convenor" for the DCU Law Society so I attend Zoom meetings with the committee and reply to any emails coming in about mooting and related activities. I'm also preparing to take part in the international Nelson Mandela Moot Court Competition so I try to fit in researching the question for the competition and preparing our written submissions. I also have Zoom calls to chat to my team-mate and lecturers about the submissions.
How do you submit assessments/do exams?
All of our assignments are uploaded through Loop. There are no exams in the traditional sense of the word in that exams don’t take place on campus. Modules with an exam element are completed as “take home” exams where students are given either 24 or 48 hours to complete the exam at home and then it is uploaded to Loop in the same way as assignments are.
How do you interact with fellow students?
Zoom has been a lifesaver for keeping in touch with my classmates. We also use WhatsApp, video calls and emails to keep in touch for group assignments. We have organised Zoom quizzes and the School of Law and Government hosted a big Zoom quiz for students and staff to raise money for charity. My friends and I organised Zoom drinks to celebrate finishing exams so it’s been really good to be able to keep the social interaction going.
Is it easy to interact with tutors/lecturers?
In my experience with the School of Law and Government in DCU, and perhaps unique to DCU itself, interacting with lecturers is so easy and relaxed. On campus their doors are always open to call in for a chat or to ask any questions and now their virtual doors are always open so the support from tutors and lecturers is as strong and constant as ever.
Any tips for incoming freshers?
Engage and get involved in college life – it is doable even when it’s done virtually! It might not be how you imagined it would be, but it will be great and enjoyable nonetheless. Participate in extra-curricular activities and get involved with societies – they are great ways to make friends and build your confidence.
If your course has the option to do a work placement, do it. It will enhance your degree and you will learn so much more about your area of study and yourself. I spent my 3rd year in a law firm and I learned so much about the practical application of the law which made me more employable and reassured me that doing law was the right choice for me.
Don’t be afraid to avail of the supports available through the college, be that through the Student Support and Development office, or by reaching out to lecturers.