By Jessica Lees, Third Year Politics and Sociology
A recent investigation by the BBC found that almost a third of university courses were still combining face-to-face teaching with online learning in the 2022-23 academic year. Data provided by 50 of the 160 universities surveyed showed that 28 per cent of courses are being taught in a hybrid way, compared with only 4.1 per cent pre-pandemic.
Epigram polled University of Bristol students for their views on the continued use of hybrid and online learning. When asked ‘is your course at Bristol still delivered partially or entirely online?’, 38 per cent of respondents were still being taught either partially or entirely online. The courses of those respondents ranged from across the STEM and Humanities schools.
While Politics and joint-honours Politics courses were the most mentioned, other courses still being taught partially digitally included Pharmacology, Veterinary Science, Criminology, Law, English Literature and Psychology. It seems that the University of Bristol is amongst those institutions choosing to deliver teaching digitally, despite COVID-19 no longer posing as much of a threat in in-person settings.
When Epigram asked the University of Bristol how many undergraduate courses in the Psychology department are delivered either partially or fully online for the current academic year, the department responded that none of the units taught on the BSc are delivered entirely online but would not provide data as to the number of units that are currently taught partially online.
Student attitudes regarding online learning are mixed. Responses in favour of online or hybrid learning generally reference the additional accessibility offered by hybrid teaching, allowing students to watch online lectures at their own pace.
Other students appreciated the added benefit that asynchronous lectures allowed for in-person seminars to make up more of their contact hours.
A third-year Sociology with Quantitative research methods student, Eléonore Valadji, told Epigram, ‘I actually really don’t mind it considering the content of units and what exactly is expected from us. It seems appropriate for a Sociology course, which doesn’t tend to require practical learning [in comparison to many STEM subjects].
'For students whose lectures are delivered entirely online, it is not uncommon for in person contact hours to amount to approximately six hours'
‘In fact, I quite like having the freedom of going through the lectures at my own pace, being able to pause and take in all the information. Particularly if it then means I get longer seminars where we have time for deeper, lengthier, and more fruitful discussions.’
However, this attitude was not unanimous. Responding to Epigram, many students criticised online learning, stating that they’d prefer more in-person teaching and that it’s generally hard to find the motivation to engage with online lectures. Echoing this, students interviewed for the BBC report similarly mentioned the negative impact asynchronous and online learning has had on their daily lives, mindsets and university work, with few in-person contact hours leaving them with empty schedules and unstructured routines.
The social downsides were another recurring factor amongst Bristol students, with some feeling that continued online learning restricts their opportunities to interact with peers. This is especially relevant for third year students who have already missed out on initial opportunities to make friends on their courses during their first year.
Valadji stated that, despite the benefits of hybrid learning, ‘It is nevertheless frustrating to think that you could easily calculate how much money you have lost by having such few contact hours, compared to what you were promised when you applied for your course. Annual tuition seems rather extortionate in comparison.’
' This price point is a far cry from, for example, the Open University’s annual fee of £6,456'
Minimal contact hours are a hot topic of conversation at the University of Bristol, particularly amongst third years. For students whose lectures are delivered entirely online, it is not uncommon for in person contact hours to amount to approximately six hours. The likening of online lectures to YouTube videos or glorified streaming services that cost thousands per year has been widespread in recent media reports on hybrid and online learning.
The £9,250 fee remains the same for hybrid courses, despite having fewer contact hours compared to courses delivered entirely in-person. This price point is a far cry from, for example, the Open University’s annual fee of £6,456 for a full-time online course, also leading to an honour’s degree.
Anger arose in 2020 and 2021 from universities' reluctance to make price reductions or offer fee rebates for a full year of online teaching. Many calls for compensation cited universities' unfilled promises to continue to provide a quality education for the price.
Though it seems that the majority of students are in support of the current UCU strikes, it is clear that ongoing industrial action has caused a wave of disruption and, for many students, has completely halted teaching in the crucial lead-up to the Spring assessment period. The question as to why universities are choosing to continue delivering their courses online during a period of extended disruption will likely continue to arise.
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Do you think that courses should no longer be delivered online?