West Sands, St Andrews

Student Opinions on Another Cancelled Semester

By taking one look at our anonymous Facebook confessions pages, we can see clearly that our community is not affected unilaterally by online learning. From posts declaring burnout due to high levels of coursework in unproductive environments to others expressing love for attending teams tutorials from the comfort of their own beds, St. Fessdrews has become the perfect platform for honest student opinions due to its anonymity. On one side of the spectrum, there are students who are enjoying the flexibility of online learning : “Online lectures are an actual lifesaver. I can fart freely during lectures without disrupting others :)” (#StFessdrews16073).  On the other, there are those struggling to keep up their motivation and mental health : “My grades are falling down the sink and I am losing all motivation to study” (#StFessdrews22999). In an attempt to piece together a more complete picture of student reactions to another remote semester, Her Campus interviewed students across disciplines and years, encountering the almost universal response that they feel “disconnected." 

Contributing to and fueling a university’s community from across the world is very hard, and this is heightened by the usually tight-knit condition of our small town and campus. Being online seemed to be the solution to this, allowing us to connect from individual corners of the world through Microsoft Teams, virtual office hours, and Zoom pub quizzes, but students feel that this is not enough. Four out of five interviewees described this feeling of disconnection, but three of these found that by choosing to remain at home, they felt more directly supported by family during this stressful and volatile period. However, while these students may have felt more relaxed and reassured by familiar places and by being at home, they do feel further away from their university friends and life. This is especially true when time zones are taken into account, with international students trying to engage in classes and activities at odd hours.

Conversely, while interviewees who have returned to St. Andrews may feel more connected to their university town and traditions, they are still experiencing the same virtual experience while Scotland remains in lockdown and most study spaces closed. This has been making it very hard for students to stay motivated. One student expressed that his “learning experience feels completely divorced from reality” and that he finds it very hard to “convince my brain of its necessity. So, while these students are privileged to be walking across St Andrews' streets and beaches, and to be physically surrounded by elements that should remind them of their previous university lives and routines, they, too, feel disconnected and low on motivation. 

In terms of the University’s role in assisting students virtually, all interviewed students acknowledge the difficulty of the task, but still wish that there was more support available. One student expresses that she wishes the “expectations for practical experience” were “lower” for her science-based modules, as there is no labwork or experience that can be undertaken within her childhood bedroom. Another has highlighted his appreciation for the University's increased flexibility with extensions, but would have wished for a greater provision of resources for students in town, such as the gradual opening of library spaces as well as more contact hours. One last student has expressed her desire for a more gentle approach to matters such as mental health and well-being through services such as the Covid Helpdesk or Student Services more generally. Unsurpringingly, most students are disappointed in this online semester and the university’s support for students studying remotely, but they do understand the difficulty of the situation - for the University, Scotland, and themselves more personally.

From talking to students it's very clear that motivation, support, and a sense of community seem to be the main elements missing from the online learning experience. More specifically, the sudden and unexpected cancellation of the semester has de-motivated students both in and out of St Andrews. While students understand the severity of this health crisis, they still want to be motivated, reassured, and feel as if they are a part of a student community beyond Microsoft Teams.