Just Another Brick in the Zoom Call: looking back on a year of online teaching and learning

This year, students and lecturers have faced the unusual challenge of completing the curriculum online.

As the end of the term approaches, both groups take time to reflect on the strange year that has passed.

Lecturers who have been trained to teach in a traditional face-to-face environment were forced to change their techniques in order to accommodate the new world of online teaching and the challenges that come with it.

Reflecting on the change to online teaching Christina Morin, Head of the English Department in UL, said, “teaching through the pandemic has certainly been challenging from a number of different perspectives. How do you effectively translate the content of a traditionally face-to-face module for online delivery, and, in some cases, at relatively short notice? How do you account for students in varied circumstances, some with trouble connecting to the internet, some with caring responsibilities, etc”.

“These aren’t questions I’d had to deal with before the pandemic, so it’s been a real learning experience”, says Dr. Morin.

Prof. Eoin Devereux of the Sociology Department, echoed similar concerns, saying, “I am very conscious of the fact that many students still face major hurdles when it comes to accessing online content for their classes.  Digital poverty, poor broadband, the lack of space at home all can have an impact on access to lecture content.  I took the decision to post content in a pre-recorded format and to allow students to engage with the content in a more flexible manner”.

University of Limrick Professor Eoin Devereux (photo via Twitter)

As for the experience of students, this varied depending on the nature of their course.

Third year architecture student, Norman Price sheds light on the challenge of completing practical coursework in a home environment as opposed to a studio.

“It feels less like I’m working a 9-5 course and more like I’m within my course 24/7. It’s become very hard to separate mentally when you’re working and when you’re relaxing especially because we make so many models and drawings, your space starts to pile up both mentally and physically”, says Price.

Lack of space “to flesh out work” as Price says, appears to be an issue for those in hands-on courses.

“My standard of work this year has kind of had to shift with the kind of space I have to work within like not being able to use my large drawing board to do large graphite drawing sketches but instead being contained within computer design and CAD has definitely changed the work I produce”, says Price.

The Glucksmann Library at the University of Limerick

Students in more book-based courses are experiencing similar issues of blurred lines between work and leisure.

Fourth-year psychology student, Sara Louise Fuery reports feeling a drop in motivation as a result of the lack of face-to-face lectures.

“It has been really challenging especially at the beginning when we didn’t know the set up. The main challenges were trying to stay motivated, avoiding distractions at home, trying to hold yourself accountable to completing the work, getting in contact with lecturers- especially fyp supervisors”, says Fuery.

As the year comes to a close most are in agreement that with challenges come upskilling and much can be taken away from this experience to better our future selves.

“Despite the challenges, the past year has been really rewarding in some ways, especially in terms of my development as a teacher. I feel much more confident in my ability to design and deliver a module completely online or in a blended capacity”, says Dr. Morin.

As students approach exam season they continue to face the day to day challenges of online learning but after spending a year in this environment are better equipped to handle them with Sara Louise Fuery reiterating, “at the beginning of the pandemic it was extremely difficult but as time went on we got used to it”.

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