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Cache-22: How has the shift to online learning affected Manchester students?

Manchester students have expressed concerns about how the recent shift to online teaching during lockdown is affecting their education.

The University of Manchester suspended on-campus teaching in March, along with all other UK institutions, in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. 

While no students are doubting the necessity of the move to online learning, some have encountered obstacles to engaging with the content – and criticised the University for providing conflicting information regarding examinations. 

Lauren Poole, a second-year Languages student, said: “Online studies definitely don’t allow for the same learning experience that we would get [on campus]”. 

“Most people, even tutors, have their cameras and microphones off which leads to classes lacking in interactivity,” she added. 

“Online studies definitely don’t allow for the same learning experience that we would get [on campus]”

– Lauren Poole, second year UoM

Students said that mixed messages from the University were a problem, with some in the School of Law reportedly receiving updates which did not apply to them. According to one Law student, this caused caused “a lot of confusion”. 

The Law student told The Mancunion:We are still yet to receive our exam timetables. We have been told the format of our assessments but not the dates. The problem with this is that I am at work 3-4 days a week, but I don’t know which days I should not work to focus on my replacement assessments.

“I feel [the University] has seriously neglected the fact that many people will have ongoing work commitments alongside studying.” 

The University has since announced exam dates.

Students in the School of Mathematics also received contradictory guidance about summer exams, simultaneously being told that their assessments would and would not go ahead. 

Emilija Gaidelyte, a second-year Business Management student, said: “The communication from UoM has been quite poor. However, we’re all a little lost, and just trying our best, during these uncertain times.”

 A spokesperson from the University of Manchester told The Mancunion that the University have “worked hard to make the transition as easy and smooth as possible for our students” and have received some “very positive feedback” from students and staff about online teaching.

However, the University also acknowledged that continued work is still needed to refine practises and facilities: “We understand that this is a time of upheaval for everyone at the University and we will continue to look at ways we can improve our services in these unprecedented times.” 

“We understand that this is a time of upheaval for everyone at the University and we will continue to look at ways we can improve our services in these unprecedented times.” 

– The University of Manchester

While the abrupt change has been difficult for many to grow accustomed to, the move to online learning has been far less steep for some who already had online classes before the pandemic. 

Edo Altamura, a PhD candidate, said: “As a computational astrophysicist, the transition was relatively quick since 100% of my work is done on remote computational facilities. I consider my workflow to be as efficient as usual.” 

Some students have taken to penning anonymous open letters defending staff. One undergraduate from the school of Arts, Languages and Culture (SALC), wrote: “Lecturers are not walking talking [academic] references … they are most likely experiencing anxiety [like] everyone else.” 

The student went on to urge their peers to take a more “human approach” and “remain patient” with teaching staff. 

Others have called for staff to do more to make up for lost teaching time. In a separate open letter to the SALC, a group of final year Spanish students have placed four demands for their year group. These include financial compensation, a guaranteed graduation ceremony, a choice regarding oral exams and greater inter-faculty cohesion. 

“We appreciate that these demands are directed at different recipients and require a variety of courses of action, but we felt we wanted to articulate all our grievances in one place, as they are all symptomatic of a wider problem: the mistreatment of the students and teachers by the University,” the letter reads.

The University has focused this semester’s course unit surveys specifically on the move to online learning, with bosses keen to hear from students on what can be improved in the future. 

The Students’ Union have also launched a survey in order to better understand how students have found the shift to online learning.

Information gathered in this survey will be passed on to the Education Officer, Chloe Salins, to help her represent student interests and concerns in meetings with the University.

We want to know how the impact of COVID-19 has affected your learning and accessing of resources and student support…

Posted by University of Manchester Students' Union on Tuesday, 28 April 2020

The Office for Students, which regulates all UK universities, has urged “regular and clear communications to students” in its latest guidance on standards during coronavirus

In a statement to The Mancunion, the University of Manchester acknowledged the challenges that come with moving all face-to-face teaching online:

“Since we have suspended physical face-to-face teaching and moved to online learning, the University has worked hard to make the transition as easy and smooth as possible for our students. Their teaching and learning remain one of our top priorities and we’re pleased that students are engaging with our online provision.

 “We’ve had some very positive feedback from students and staff about teaching and learning online. However, we understand that this is a time of upheaval for everyone at the University and we will continue to look at ways we can improve our services in these unprecedented times.” 

The University of Manchester has pulled together a range of guides and resources to help students transition to online studying which can be found on the Student Support website.

If students have any difficulties accessing online learning or accessing the University network, they can email [email protected] or call +44 (0) 161 306 6199 (Monday to Friday during UK Office hours)

Tags: coronavirus, covid-19, online learning, online teaching, university closure, University of Manchester

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