The Mancunion spoke to third-year English Language student Kathryn McDonald who told us about her experiences dealing with the transition to online learning from a DASS (Disability Advisory and Support Service) perspective.
She posted a message to the Manchester Students Group Facebook page and quickly received hundreds of likes and comments expressing similar concerns towards online learning and technology provision.
How have you been dealing with the transition to online learning semester?
Normal university is hard enough. We’re all students in the same boat. We’re getting locked away or having to stay at home, away from our support networks which are our university friends, housemates, societies and volunteering project friends.
As horrible as 9am lecturers used to feel, I miss them. Having my friends is what got me through uni even before Covid. I don’t mind the lectures being online, because for my learning style lectures are pretty redundant.
“As horrible as 9am lecturers used to feel, I miss them
However it’s seminars I’m really struggling with. A lot of my course requires very outdated software which is applied differently on all computers.
Now, Covid comes in and lecturers haven’t changed their teaching styles, it just encourages the silent to stay silent, but now practically entirely anonymous.
“It’s seminars I’m really struggling with. A lot of my course requires very outdated software which is applied differently on all computers
Forcing students into breakout rooms on Zoom seems to be their response to this issue – again, this is completely futile and realistically not beneficial to most learning styles.
What has your experience been so far with the university and can you outline the issues you have been having asking for support concerning tech support?
I am receiving minimal or no support from the majority of my academic tutors, like many of my course mates and uni friends.
If I’m honest it’s only got worse since Covid. The University of Manchester has been exceptionally poor regarding student support even in my first year in 2018.
The long and short of it is uni doesn’t care about us. It’s turned into a business venture, building pretty business buildings and making the rich richer. My department is massively underfunded with the majority of our equipment broken and faulty.
Before COVID there were often not enough computers when we were put into computer labs for tutorials. Coronavirus is being used as an excuse and a cover-up for their major neglect of so many aspects of teaching and student life.
“I am a DASS student, I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was 19
I am a DASS student, I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was 19 (in my second year of university) when one of my lecturers commented on my written expression and I decided to get it investigated.
I praise our university for offering this service as I wouldn’t have been able to get a diagnosis if it wasn’t offered at a reduced rate. Once you get that diagnosis, DASS ticks boxes saying what support you can get, I get week extensions on assessments, library book loan extensions and priorities and 25% extra time in exams.
I applied for a Disabled Student Allowance (DSA), this assesses what other equipment and support I need. With this I get a study support worker, who I absolutely adore and has been my saving grace when uni have let me down, she is not associated with my university, I got a printer and various reading and educational software on my laptop.
My laptop had a hardware fault during summer so I sent it off and only received it 2 days ago – I’m 4 weeks into my 3rd year where every day is crucial. I’m massively behind on reading, because I’ve not had my software or a working laptop.
I repeatedly emailed asking for advice on borrowing laptops – I got blanketed responses, here’s this link, email this person, they said. I’ve been asking for help weekly, it feels like, still nothing. So I took to MSG and basically just had a cry for help publicised and blow up.
“My DASS advisor is almost rude in replies and most of the time completely ignores the emails I send.
I’ve been most disappointed with DASS as they’re my point of call especially because the biggest issue is being without my reading software. I ironically study English Language so have a very large quantity of reading.
Times are tough that’s for sure. My academic advisor and 2 of my lecturers have really tried to help me, but they send me to DASS and rightly so, my DASS advisor is almost rude in replies and most of the time completely ignores the emails I send.
Do you know of others who have also been struggling and in a similar position to yourself?
I put a post on MSG to find allies in this, I had countless responses from other DASS students, some ex-students from before COVID complaining. One person said she changed her course due to the lack of support from one branch of DASS.
I shouldn’t have to publicly admit I’m struggling to a group chat of 48,000 members and have this many people console me for the neglect and in my opinion blatant disrespect. These networks exist purely to help disabled students, that job is what pays their bills, and I get the impression they do it just for that reason and not because they care about us, or that’s at least how it feels.
“I shouldn’t have to publicly admit I’m struggling to a group chat of 48,000 members
I’ve joined a group chat full of disabled students petitioning for online uni to become more accessible- and that’s only the crux of the problem.
What would you like to see from the university in terms of increased support for DASS students during this difficult period?
Firstly, more staff or some retraining of existing staff. Many people have messaged me saying the same thing about the same member of staff, there’s a huge feeling of lack of compassion and feeling like a nuisance or like I’m asking too much for a service I’m contributing over £9,000 a year to.
Staff who are trained in particular disabilities that you can go to and they can inform lecturers and teaching staff how to be more accessible. Covid hasn’t changed anything, it’s just exacerbated the flaws. I’m so disappointed in my university and it’s supposed disability support service.
A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We’re sorry to hear of this student’s experience with our Disability Advisory and Support Service (DASS) and will work with them to resolve this issue as soon as possible.
“As a University, we are fully committed to providing support for all our disabled students and DASS ensures they receive tailored assistance for their individual requirements.
“For example, we have purchased assistive software for use by our dyslexic students and this is installed on all computers in University clusters and is also accessible remotely.
“Throughout the pandemic, DASS and our other university support services have continued to provide appointments and services by video, phone and email. The feedback we have received shows a positive experience for many of our disabled students.
“However, we do recognise that different students have different needs, and we know there are always areas we can improve and that is something the University is consistently working towards.”