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Socially distanced, together in frustration

Sitting through hours of lectures can be challenging at the best of times. It is made significantly harder when Macbeth’s soliloquies are interspersed with noise from your Wi-Fi cutting out or the inaudibility of tutors trying to be heard above a mask and a visor.

By Holly Beaumont, Investigations Editor

Sitting through hours of lectures, discussing the in-depth details of why William Shakespeare wrote what he wrote, or how you get X from Y, can be challenging at the best of times. It is made significantly harder when Macbeth’s soliloquies are interspersed with static noise from your Wi-Fi cutting out or the inaudibility of tutors trying to be heard above a mask and a visor.

These challenges are naturally breeding frustration amongst students, many of which have considered deferring or have already deferred.

Epigram spoke to a number of students to verify this feeling of discontent towards their studies this year and, consequently, their decisions to defer their places at Bristol until next year.

First year History of Art student Holly Taylor vented her frustration about her university experience so far:

‘The online learning has been a huge, huge problem for me because I have a terrible laptop. I have not been able to access the live lectures or even watch them back.’

Her words speak to the financial burdens that online learning can incur.

Shutterstock / Tero Vesalainen

Her frustration, however, is not limited to the online learning, but also applies to the rationed in-person classes. She said, ‘with the in-person stuff, there’s literally only been three of us turning up, so I’ve only met a handful of people on my course.’

‘Also, the tutors are very new to this; they don’t really get it and aren’t really enjoying it. Two of my tutors have explicitly said “we really don’t like this”’.

Holly has deferred her place with a hope that, ‘if Covid is still a problem next year, the Uni might have it a little bit more together’.

I’ve only met a hanful of people on my course

Another student who has opted to defer her place at Bristol is third Year Liberal Arts student Maddy Clegg. Speaking on behalf of many students who were supposed to be studying abroad this year, Maddy said, ‘I was thrust into third year without having thought about my dissertation at all. I felt incredibly behind.’

‘Even my course tutor said that she thinks that online lessons will be more beneficial than in-person teaching. So, for me, I didn’t feel there was much more point continuing through a screen’.

It is also apparent that students are not alone in this frustration. It appears equally trying for tutors when they are, more often than not, delivering their thoroughly prepared ‘webinars’ to a sea of blank screens.

A Lecturer in the School of Humanities expressed some frustration towards the, at times silent, environment that an online teaching forum can foster. They suggested that students’ propensity to mirror each other’s behaviour has led to a uniform shyness and reduced participation due to the anonymity of masks and turning cameras off. Simply, ‘no one puts their camera on because no one is putting their camera on’, they suggest.

They dwell on a domino-like effect of behaviour, stating, ‘if students perceive other students to be disengaged, and if everyone has a kind of common investment in the idea that this year is a rum deal, then we're all liable to amplify that view...that we all think this is a bit subpar’.

'We all think this is a bit subpar'

These frustrations, which the Lecturer made clear were not directed towards students, also pertain to what they described to be a ‘compromised learning experience’.

‘I know I'm not just speaking for myself. It's very frustrating because we feel that we're having to work particularly hard to deliver what is nonetheless a reduced experience for the students. That can be very demoralising for us.’

Another tutor in the School of Humanities voiced a similar view:

‘I think compromise is the word for everything at the moment’, they said.

Speaking to the physical separation of teaching this year, they explained that, ‘by this point of the term, I normally know everyone in a seminar group. There is a sense that people are further away, and obviously physically they are but that creates a sort of a (metaphorical) distancing as well’.

'By this point I normally know everyone in a seminar group'

In a time of government-imposed isolation, the distance created by teaching this year can only emphasise the detachment we feel between ourselves and the world around us.

Although we are separated by screens, face coverings and two-metre distances, we are united more than ever by our shared frustration towards these unusual times.

Featured image: Shutterstock / SeventyFour