In this article, I interviewed five first-year undergraduate students from different universities on their experience with ‘Zoom University’ this past year.
What school do you go to?
Student 1: University of St Andrews, Scotland
Student 2: Kings College, England
Student 3: University of St Andrews, Scotland
Student 4: University of Los Angeles, U.S.A
Student 5: Syracuse University, U.S.A
What are you studying?
Student 1: Molecular Biology
Student 2: Law
Student 3: Psychology and Neuroscience
Student 4: Double Major in Cognitive Science and Political Science
Student 5: Political Science
Do you feel like learning online affected your academic performance?
Student 1: Yes, especially in Chemistry as every lab was online and I did not find that style of learning very educational. I would often find myself zoning out from online lectures as well, because it is so much more challenging to pay attention whilst watching pre-recorded lectures.
Student 2: At the end of the day no, but there were highs and lows during the year. On some days I would have hours of work to do, and on other days I would have barely anything. So, I think that there is more of an average amount per day in person, but I don’t think that it necessarily affected my academic performance.
Student 3: Yes. I found that online learning made performing well academically slightly easier, because there was less pressure to do everything on my own. Though, it was also harder to concentrate in pre-recorded lectures.
Student 4: Yes, in a positive way because my classes have become easier online.
Student 5: Yes, grades have gone up because of open-book testing, but I am not retaining as much information because of the different learning style.
Do you think being online this year will affect you in any way next year?
Student 1: Yes, I struggled to grasp the basic concepts and foundational knowledge in a few of my courses. That foundational knowledge is super important when studying Chemistry, and not having a good understanding in the previous courses will probably affect me next year.
Student 2: Yes, I am scared to be in-person because of the memorization that goes into law when you can’t do open-book testing. I don’t know how to take a test without an open book and sitting in an exam hall.
Student 3: Yes, I do not feel like it prepared me for in-person testing or prepared me for the rigour of what a real university course load is like.
Student 4: Yes, for sure. I feel like I am reliant on open-book testing to get through my classes. My mental and physical health has been really affected because of my doing school in a completely different time zone (-12 hours). I feel like it has taken a lot more effort to maintain the same standard of grades that I am used to achieving.
Student 5: No, maybe it’ll make me appreciate not being online.
How would you feel if lectures were online again next semester?
Student 1: Sad. Upset. Distressed. I would be okay with 50/50 online and in-person, but it would be really disappointing if it were to be 100% online again, because I do not feel like I’m learning enough online, retaining the information, or that the level of education I am receiving is on par with how much I pay in tuition fees.
Student 2: I would like lectures to be in person, but ideally still have them be recorded.
Student 3: Depressed.
Student 4: Extremely disappointed but not that surprised. I feel like I am used to disappointment after this year.
Student 5: Well Syracuse is requiring everyone to be vaccinated by June 1, so I highly doubt that they would be online again.
What was your least favourite thing about being online this year?
Student 1: Tutorials. Talking on a Teams call is really awkward and hard to gauge other people’s reactions to what you are saying.
Student 2: The fact some people were at Kings and some people were not.
Student 3: Not being able to meet new people, have familiarity with my professors, or experience real university life.
Student 4: My actual class schedule because of the massive time difference. My physical and mental health has taken a toll, as has my relationship with my family. Even though I’m home, I do school all night and sleep during the day so I don’t see anyone.
Student 5: Social interaction. I tell people that I’m getting the PG-13 version of college. I chose a school with a lot of student activity for a reason and I’m not getting any of that.
Any highlights of being online this year?
Student 1: Being able to fast forward or speed up lectures and open-book testing, which gave me more time to spend time with my family or flatmates - depending on where I was studying from.
Student 2: It made me want to reach out to people more, would have been complacent in making friends and now I feel like I am more intentional with my friendships.
Student 3: I could do my lectures from anywhere and my days were not super structured, so the flexibility.
Student 4: I can’t think of any. Maybe it's easier to get a good grade but I’m also not learning as much.
Student 5: Flexible schedules and a new appreciation for non-pandemic life.