First year Speech and Language Therapy student, Charlotte Alcock, explains below how the coronavirus pandemic has affected her studies. From new ways of learning and changes in assessments to zoom meetings with lecturers, Charlotte and the rest of the cohort have had a lot of adjusting to do over the past couple of months…
Online Learning Curve
On the 16th March when the university suddenly switched from mainly face-to-face to completely online learning for my course BSc Speech and Language Therapy I felt pretty conflicted. I was relieved that I wouldn’t need to commute in to my lectures on a packed train anymore and steri-wipe every desk before I sat down (to be fair I was a germophobe even before coronavirus so I was quite pleased to have a valid excuse to do this!). However, I was a bit worried about what it was going to be like learning in such a different way – and how I was going to balance that with home-schooling my two kids.
What worked and what didn’t
I know that I’m in a different situation to some people on my course, who weren’t living at home and have had to cope with all the disruption of moving out of halls and back to their parents’ houses, but moving to online teaching hasn’t actually been as hard a change as I thought it would be. Our whole cohort was given iPads at the start of the course last year and encouraged to use them during all of our lectures and on our placements, so we are already used to working on them and I have hardly touched the lovely set of new stationery that I bought in my start of term excitement in September!
All our learning is still co-ordinated through Blackboard, the University’s online learning platform. Even before we switched to online, our lecture slides and links to extra reading were on Blackboard before the lectures, and we were able to access podcasts of the lectures afterwards. The main difference with lectures now is that they are pre-recorded so we don’t have to wait to access the recordings. It isn’t quite the same as face-to-face and I have definitely missed the ability to interact and ask questions but there are discussion boards with the lecturers available during lecture time to answer questions. This set up might even suit some people better who don’t have the confidence to ask questions in front of a group.
I have found that doing sessions that require a lot of interaction, such as seminars and tutorials ,via online discussion boards hasn’t worked overly well, but the teaching staff have been really responsive to changing things that don’t work. We are now doing more sessions via Zoom and other interactive video chat software like Blackboard Collaborate which is much better because we can all see and talk to each other and it really feels like we are part of our year group again.
The main thing that has been really helpful is that the teaching staff have been so available and supportive. Our assessments have been changed to make sure we are not disadvantaged by the sudden change to our teaching, we’ve had loads of emails checking up on us, and links provided for wellbeing activities. We’ve also had lots of Zoom conversations with them, sometimes with their toddlers leaping around in the background which is always entertaining!
We don’t know yet whether our next semester in September will be wholly or partly online, hopefully by then the world might be a bit more back to normal and we’ll be back on campus for at least some of the time. I think it has been a steep learning curve for the university as well as for us as students and if we do need to start next term online then our lecturers will have had months rather than days to plan our online teaching so the initial little teething problems should have been ironed out.
One thing I’m particularly curious about is our placements for next year. In second year, we’re meant to have six weeks of placement in Semester 2 which would usually be anything from working with adults on stroke wards in hospitals to working with children in mainstream and special schools.
At the moment with schools closed and most of the adult patients being in the vulnerable category I know SLT’s are having to do a lot more telephone based therapy rather than the usual face-to-face. I have stayed in touch with my first year placement mentors and I know they are busier than ever adjusting to this new way of working and trying to make sure their patients are still getting the therapy they need while staying safe. Hopefully by the start of next year things will be back to relative normality and, if not, then our placements will be training us for a new, socially distant way of working that might be the future for SLT for a while.
To read more from our students about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their studies click here