In a less than ideal turn of events, the re-emergence of COVID in Auckland pushed UOA campuses back into remote learning mode. After a couple of glorious weeks on campus, with access to lecturers, tutors, supervisors and Munchy Mart, we’re back to destroying our backs as we try to study in bed. Craccum spoke to more than fifty students, to find out how the quick transition back into remote learning has affected university work.
Overwhelming, students reported that a lack of motivation was their biggest challenge in completing their work during remote learning. Students also cited poor mental health as a difficult road block, adding that uncertainty about the future (including the potential return to campus, the changes to course formats and deadlines and adjustments to grading rubrics) was exacerbating their stress. One student stated, “Learning has been difficult since we are still not 100% sure whether assessments will be online or not. I would much rather have everything online at this point than risking my health and travelling to the university. I don’t drive so public transport is my only option, which has made me scared of whether to even go to university.” Several students carried this sentiment too, with an element of concern about returning to university during the pandemic.
Some students also highlighted that issues of access were making remote learning more difficult, with common issues including poor wi-fi, technical difficulties, having to share devices, lack of access to online resources and quiet spaces for focused study. One student highlighted the difficulties of managing their studies with their responsibilities at home, explaining “Supervising homeschooling has drastically reduced time for study and my access to a shared device with kids at school using it.” The lack of communication from lecturers and the university was another prevalent issue, with some feeling like the information they were receiving in semester one was clearer. Others felt overwhelmed with information, concerned about missing important details and changes. However, some students clarified that the communication and course delivery depended on the paper; one said “Some papers are presenting us with adjustments to due dates and expectations. Meanwhile others have simply started recycling old lectures from past years but not giving us any sort of indication as to their new requirements in terms of tutorials. It’s just plain to see what papers are run better than others.”
Several students also expressed frustrations over elongated lecture recordings, suggesting that it was taking much longer to run through content and that some lecturers were purposefully exceeding time slots. One said, “Lecturers have tried to be accomodating and break them into smaller parts – but this often ends up taking more time than the two hours, and it’s hard to keep focus for such a long time period. I think our lecturers have been doing a great job, but there’s a natural tendency to load a whole lot more information into a lecture when it’s’ recorded online with no space for questions.”
Other challenges that students highlighted included extended screen time, lack of schedule, lack of adjustment time (with the absence of ‘teach-free’ days), absence of time with tutors, the recycling of old course content, the lack of practical work and feelings of isolation.
Largely, students reported that many of the issues they were facing were similar to those in semester one. Many, however, also added that they were finding it more difficult to cope with the challenges in the second round of remote learning. Students attributed this to the fast and unexpected switch to online learning, lack of adjustment time, lack of clear communication, increase in anxiety and worse mental health.
The major difference students highlighted was the lack of certainty; one said “At least in lockdown version 1 it was pretty clear that uni would be entirely online for the rest of the semester. There is so much uncertainty this time – we could come out of lockdown soon and then it could happen again. I don’t know what to prepare for regarding assessments and exams if we do them online.” Other differences that students pointed to included the lack of a grade boost and the adjustment to 24 hour test periods.
However, a few suggested that they felt they were more prepared for the study techniques they needed to use during remote learning, with the lack of motivation being their main concern. Some students expressed appreciation for the increase in live tutorials and lectures, suggesting that this change made it easier to stay on track. One suggested that their lecturers were adjusting better, stating “My lecturers are making the effort to make lecture recordings that are easier to follow,” while another said “Lecturers seem to be getting sloppier because there’s this ethos that it’ll all be okay again soon.”
Nearly all students that responded to Craccum’s survey disclosed that remote learning had negatively impacted their levels of motivation. Some students suggested that being separated from other students, tutors and lecturers, with a lack of discussion, made learning more difficult. One stated, “I have no motivation. Normally being around the other students would allow for collaboration and further motivation but without that it’s been incredibly demoralising.” Some suggested that the absence of campus lifestyle was draining their motivation. Uncertainty was once again highlighted as an issue, with students feeling less motivated due to the lack of information about assessments later in the semester. Other hits to student motivation included feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work and admin, feeling like workloads had increased, distractions and responsibilities at home. One student said “There are so many distractions at home – I’m partial to the Netflix binge, or disappearing into the Youtube hole. Motivation is definitely more difficult to find. At the same time, remote learning has provided much more time to complete assignments as I can rearrange my class schedule to fit as needs be.”
One student expressed frustration at the lack of control they had over their courses, stating “Seething UoA did not extend the dates to withdraw from courses. The lockdown was announced 2 business days after the cutoff. I would have done less/different papers if I knew I was in for more remote working.” Another suggested that this lockdown period has made them contemplate transferring universities.
Motivating factors that students highlighted included support from their friends, live and interactive course elements (zoom and live lectures) and the pressure of deadlines. A few students suggested that their motivation had remained the same, with one saying that remote learning “made [uni] easier because my disabilities make in person study difficult.”
Students were quite divided on the amount of support that they felt was being offered from the university. Those who felt the university was not doing enough to support the sudden move to remote learning highlighted a lack of communication, lack of clarity on the rest of semester, changes to test rules, lack of a grade boost, disregard for mental health and the absence of adjustment time. One student said ““Absolutely not. I’m getting more in debt every day because of the lockdown, I’m constantly very stressed. Some of my classes have mandatory labs and technical components that don’t run on my computer, meaning I’ll have almost no training on the system before our first test. Some of my papers are full year, affected by both lockdowns and we don’t even get a grade bump.” A few felt that the support offered in semester one was more comprehensive, with one student stating “I think there was sufficient support last semester, with the grade bump and 24 hour tests/exams. However, so far this semester it doesn’t seem as though much has been done to alleviate the stresses of the abrupt shift to online learning.”
Some students suggested that their struggles and frustration were more dependent on individual courses, expressing concerns about the communication from lecturers and increased workload in particular papers. Other students felt that their struggles during remote learning were more personal, including the lack of motivation. One said “ I don’t really know what support is available. I could just motivate myself more. I don’t have issues with laptops or internet access and I know they have supported students well with that.”
The suggestions that students presented for improving remote learning were wide ranging. The most popular suggestions included clearer communication from both the university and course convenors, reinstating longer test periods (some suggested 2-4 hours, some advocated for the return to 24 hours), another grade bump, adjustments to coursework and the integration of more live elements (Zoom lectures, tutorials etc.). One student stated “It would be useful if lecturers outlined a timetable of when classes and tutorials would be posted at the beginning of a lockdown so it wasn’t as easy to fall behind. On the whole though, I think lecturers are doing a good job as the situation is new for them too. I’m a bit concerned with online exams in terms of equity issues: a three-hour window might not provide sufficient time for students dealing with additional issues at home. Hopefully, we don’t need to go back to online learning once Covid-19 is out of the picture: the best model for a university – a place of active learning, a place to make connections and deliberate ideas – is clearly in person, and I miss it!”
Some other student suggestions involved creating more consistency across papers, utilising more flexible due dates, incorporating teach-free days, the ability to drop papers without affecting GPA, remaining online for the rest of semester and improving the quality of lecture recordings. One student refused to answer Craccum’s question, asserting “i aint gonna even manifest we do remote learning again so i shall offer no changes, apologies xoxo”.