How Remote Working Changed my University Experience

Since the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, forcing the country to a standstill, remote working has become a feature of my degree to varying extents. My third term of first year was purely online (including what should have been my first hospital placement) which I undertook from my family home. Since the start of second year, the college has adopted a ‘multi-mode’ learning strategy encompassing elements of remote and face to face learning. Needless to say, it looks likely that remote learning will be here to stay for the foreseeable future so I thought I’d share a few of my reflections in this blog post. I’m sure these insights will evolve over time alongside my curriculum so this blog post may have a sequel if the aftermath of COVID-19 lingers on long enough.

I’ll begin with some of the impacts remote working has had on my experience academically. During first year I managed to attend the vast majority, if not all, of my lectures in person. I know, quite an achievement. However, this year all of our lectures are delivered online as either live or pre-recorded sessions. Personally, I don’t feel this has had an adverse impact on my learning. I must confess, despite attending lectures in person, most of the time I would need to re-watch them anyway as I’d have undoubtedly got enthralled by the carpet or something mid-way through. Hence, watching lectures online wasn’t an alien concept to me. I also quite like being able to rewind and pause recordings if I didn’t quite grasp something. A slight downside of pre-recorded lectures is that, if I’m really confused, I can’t ask the lecturer a question in real time as I would in a live or face to face scenario. However, our academics are really excellent at replying to emails quickly so whenever I’ve needed to ask a question I’ve had a reply fairly promptly. Our tutorials have been a mix of face to face and online during second year, with the latter utilising the breakout room feature of zoom to simulate a more collaborative environment. This can be a mixed bag as interaction online is for some reason far more awkward than in person so sometimes you can end up in a breakout room with all cameras and microphones turned off. However, as a whole, I also don’t feel my learning from tutorials was at a major detriment due to the remote aspect. As we are taught Anatomy using cadaveric specimens and practice clinical skills on one another, these sessions have been taught face to face alongside our GP placement. While online learning does take some adjusting, if I’m being honest, I don’t think I can complain about it from an academic point of view.

Socially, remote learning has had a more marked effect. Whilst previously we would have lectures with the entire cohort attending, due to social distance requirements, lecture theatres which could previously occupy over 300 can now only accommodate around 30. Therefore, we have been divided into timetabling groups of 30 people with whom we have all of our face to face teaching. This, of course, makes absolute sense in the current climate. My timetabling group are lovely, but I miss being able to see different people every time I’m on campus. I certainly do feel remote learning has made it more difficult to make new friends by limiting the chance encounters we can have with new people. Whilst I am still in contact with people I know closely, in first year there were always people who I’d have a chat with when I bumped into them in the queue for coffee, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you if they had a middle name. Remote working has hindered the, to me very valuable, relationships which relied on you chancing upon someone rather than actively reaching out to them which I feel are an important part of everyday life.

Remote learning is an entity we will have to live with for some time. I also appreciate that I have been extremely fortunate to have had any campus teaching altogether. As there are some skills in medicine which require human interaction to develop, we have been exempt from the face to face teaching restrictions which meant most other courses were either entirely, or mostly, remote. I also don’t live on my own which will have impacted my remote working experiences. Finally, I am also incredibly lucky to be at Imperial. As a STEM giant, Imperial has tackled the challenges posed by remote learning with relative ease and efficiency. I have no doubt that if I studied elsewhere these reflections may well be tinted with a duller hue.

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