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If you had told me back in November that by January, Coronavirus cases would be at an all-time high globally, I truly don’t know how I would have reacted. At the time, I was aching for hope and desperately maintained an optimistic façade in the midst of a turbulent semester. Cases seemed to be slowly declining and I began mentally preparing for how my Covid-free summer would play out. I, unfortunately, deliberately chose to disregard the lesson I learned from the first round of quarantine back in March 2020: expect the unexpected. It had been a challenging year (to say the least), and I found myself holding onto any semblance of a dim light at the end of the tunnel. When we were recently informed that online learning would be the primary teaching mode until March 2021 (likely even later), I had a pit in my stomach for three days straight.

Online learning comes with its pros and cons. I found one of the fundamental difficulties to be the lack of structure. Dedicated time slots for lectures mostly disappeared, and the comforting chaos of the main library was no longer a given. Instead, we all had to grow accustomed to deciding how to divide our days between schoolwork and some form of relaxation. On the one hand, I found it convenient to have more liberty in scheduling my day, getting to decide things such as when to watch a lecture. Being able to attend a tutorial from the comforts of my bedroom (especially when trekking into town was the last thing I wanted to do) was also a plus. If it suited me better to spend all morning doing readings and prepping for an essay, and watching lectures later in the evening, I could do just that, no questions asked. [bf_image id="qnxhnvrjf4v7h7x42pjwhrgh"]

However, with flexibility comes some uncertainty. On a daily basis, I wrestled with thoughts such as: How am I going to structure my week? When should I book the library? Do I take a morning or evening slot? Should I watch my lecture in the evening or at Rector’s in the morning? When should I return my library books? Needless to say, I found myself spending energy ruminating over schedules and structures when I should have spent it focusing on my studies. The convenience of a built-in routine definitely has its perks. I miss having a game-plan, concrete certainty, and days where I know exactly what to expect.

I would not be surprised if other students would agree with me when I say that online learning lacks depth. Attempting to absorb information by staring at a screen is incredibly inefficient and mentally debilitating. Social cues that we often rely on, such as body language and eye contact, have been replaced with one-dimensional faces on a Teams call. An otherwise lively lecture hall, teeming with anticipatory chatter about the happenings of the upcoming weekend, is replaced with the melancholy silence of solitude in the run up to a lecture or tutorial. When in-person lectures resumed for a brief period of time last semester, I felt that I not only performed better, but presented myself in a more relaxed and confident manner. When my tutorials were on Teams, it was tempting to sit back and soak in the information rather than participate. In-person teaching forced me to engage more and remain active in the process of learning, aided by being physically present and embedded in an actual educational atmosphere, which is difficult to replicate online.   [bf_image id="jn75nfc8xj76ncn7k3326s4"] Perhaps the most frustrating part of online learning for me was the general feeling of isolation and distance from my education at St Andrews. At times, it was difficult not to drift into a sulk, spiraling into the ‘what ifs’: “What if Coronavirus hadn’t ruined this year? Would my third-year feel more productive and memorable? Would I remember more information from this tutorial if it had been in person? Am I missing out even if there is nothing to miss out on?”

Ultimately, I had (and still have) a complicated relationship with online learning. To say there aren’t advantages to it would be a lie. However, I would conclude that the cons outweigh the pros – by a landslide. Hopefully as 2021 continues to roll out, things will only get easier and the light at the end of the tunnel will only get brighter. It’s times like these where we need each other the most, be it for a shoulder to cry on, or just the comforting sound of another human being.  

Eva Ferguson

St Andrews '22

I am a junior studying Social Anthropology and Art History at the University of St Andrews. Some of my passions include writing, classical music and traveling the world. When I'm not busy you can usually find me baking, walking in nature or finding yet another DIY project to tackle!
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