By Meghna Amin
As a ‘stale’ third-year, Sunday night Klute has been replaced with endless hours of job applications, summatives that finally do count, and the impending fear of no longer being a student. Whilst this is almost becoming too much to handle, the trials and tribulations of online learning may tip us over the breaking point.
I am in no way suggesting that I long to be amongst the crowded Elvet corridors, scouring for a seat in the library, nor racing a Fresher for the last bag of Doritos in Tesco. I don’t miss the crowds, and wouldn’t dream of them in a pandemic world. I do, however, like most, miss the regularity and normality of lectures that aren’t over Zoom, tutorials that don’t involve breakout rooms and contact hours that actually involve face to face contact.
There are just too many things to think about: frantically untangling headphones because all my housemates are also in virtual tutorials, not being able to hide my yawns from the camera, and worrying about the judgement I may get from the pile of clothes that are weighing down my chair. Especially whilst I’m trying to balance the switch between my notes, the Zoom session and the recommended reading on an overheated laptop.
Despite this, as an English student, it is refreshing to finally have access to recorded lectures. To be able to pause and go back, or just not turn up and catch up a little while later, and finally focus on everything the lecturers are presenting – as opposed to zoning out for four seconds before you’ve entirely lost track of their monologue and succumbed to scrolling through Facebook instead.
The ability to take notes at my own pace, revise from lecture material that I can rewatch without having secretly recorded, and gaining a clear view of the PowerPoint from the comfort of my bed seem too good to be true. It’s something I hope, for the sake of future students, the English department (and other anti-Encore departments) will continue to do in future.
Having said that, what I pray will end sooner rather than later are the dreaded breakout rooms. As my lecturer oh-so-wisely revealed earlier today: philosophers study philosophy because they don’t like groups. And ain’t that the truth.
Breakout rooms are the epitome of virtual learning torture. The competition of who can remain silent the longest as the tutor enters your virtual group to observe what you’ve been discussing, or rather, if you’ve been discussing. That one person who’ll just type in the chat instead of turning their mic on. And the dread of turning your mic on only to find someone else’s Zoom has just been highlighted in green as they make the point that was on the tip of your tounge, only you didn’t click the button in time.
And what’s worse is that everyone will have seen your little face light up by now. Because there is no hiding on Zoom. You can slink into the back of a lecture with a face from the night before, pyjama bottoms and no notes. But it’s only the pyjama bottoms that remain for online learning. You can’t hide from anyone – students and lecturers alike, because you just don’t know if your face and photo-wall-immersed-in-fairy-lights-background is at the top of someone’s screen, and you’d never risk having your webcam off and the tutor calling you out to turn it on.
All in all, online learning has its perks. Being able to study from bed, all the time, is an everlasting novelty. And the Encore English lectures are a dream that did come true. But are the perks worth the breakout rooms? It’s a no from me.
Illustration by Anna Main