What it's really like to be a lecturer during a pandemic?

You’ll probably have heard a lot about the impact the pandemic is having on students, and many of you will have been affected yourselves. But how has this unique period of time been for those on the other side of the student/lecturer relationship? We spoke to Law Lecturer, Helen Ryan, about what it’s really like to be teaching during a pandemic, and how students can continue to get the support they need, even at a distance.

Preparation is key when it comes to success, and luckily Helen was ahead of the game when it came to preparing for the inevitable first lockdown. “I’d been following the news really carefully and I thought, about a fortnight in advance of it happening, that we’d be locked down”, she tells us. “I brought some of the things I was planning to do later in the semester forward. I explained why to my students and they clearly thought I’d gone mad!” Turns out, none of us could have predicted just how long we’d be in this situation.

An uncertain future is something that we know is often the biggest struggle among the Onyx Support student community. Helen explains that this is something she noticed early on with her own students. “There has been a lot of focus on older and vulnerable people, but I saw a lot of very nervous young students. They were worried not only about their own health and that of family members, but of how their long term futures would be affected. All of which is perfectly understandable.”

The new virtual learning world has been a learning curve for so many students and, for most, isn’t the university experience they signed up to. It can be difficult to get the same level of engagement via a screen, especially with so many people around the world now suffering from ‘zoom-fatigue’. This is confirmed byHelen, who told us that the most difficult part of teaching through a pandemic has been getting students to speak in an online environment and to avoid the temptation to keep their cameras turned off - we all know the feeling on a particularly bad hair day! “It’s a challenge when that happens because seeing someone and their body language can be a real aide to teaching, “She says. “You can tell how someone’s feeling, whether they’re engaged or not and so on.” Our first piece of advice to any students reading would be, despite it being frustrating at times, do try to engage via zoom - it’s the closest thing to real life contact that many of us have for the time being!

Ensuring learning outcomes is a priority for students and their lecturers alike. It’s important for students to know that their Universities and the lecturers will be doing everything in their power to ensure end results are the same, despite us having to take a slightly bumpier path to get there. Helen reassures us of this, saying “Lecturers are professionals, most of us these days have professional teaching qualifications and we will be well versed in adapting what we do to ensure that necessary learning outcomes are met.”

If you are struggling, please always remember that you are not alone, even if you can’t physically be in a room with other people right now. Your lecturer will always be available and happy to try to help you. “If we can’t, then you can bet we know someone who can! All universities have extensive student services teams. They can deal with a whole range of issues from study support to welfare and mental health issues. The key thing is not to struggle help early! There’s no issue we won’t have come across before and nothing that we will not take seriously. If it matters to you then it matters to us!”, says Helen.

It’s not all doom and gloom. While no one can deny that the past year has been unusual and challenging for all students, there are some glimmers of good that have come out of the new ways of learning, not least the discipline and self motivation skills that students have proven they hold. This is something that has really stood out to Helen over the past months. “Students need to get themselves organised to sit in front of the computer, when maybe they don’t really feel like it, perhaps when other things are going on around them. Developing that resilience and self motivation is what we all need and something that all employers look for.”

So will we ever go back to face to face learning? Helen suspects not. “Perhaps what we will see is a more blended learning environment, combining the best of both.” And we agree - if there’s an opportunity to embrace some of the good things to have come out of virtual learning - from the increased self-motivation, to the no need to leave the house on a freezing, icy morning for a lecture - then we are all for it.

Advice for students is one of our main priorities at Onyx Support, so we asked Helen what her top advice for students during this time would be. “I’m actually going to give two pieces of advice, simply because I can’t decide which is more important! The first is to engage and take advantage of every single opportunity your course offers. This will help you to get the very best out of your course and will also, in these socially isolated times, help you to feel engaged.” This is so important at all times, but even more so when we’re in lockdown. Engaging in all opportunities, even if they are virtual, allows you to feel a little normality in an abnormal world.

And finally, kindness is king. Helen reminds us to remember the importance of kindness. “Be kind. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. Don’t beat yourself up if something goes wrong, cut yourself some slack. Do the same for others. We don’t know what kind of a time someone else may be having, or what goes on behind the scenes. We owe it to ourselves and those around us to be kind.

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