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Sent down from university – by the coronavirus

Blog | By Tommy Mount | Apr 17, 2020

Old College, Edinburgh (Credit: Su Hongjia)

A new study has found that students learn just as well remotely as they do at university. Tommy Mount, 19, in his first year at Edinburgh University, was just preparing for his exams when the lockdown kicked in...

Only two weeks ago, the commotion surrounding coronavirus felt very far away from my tiny room in halls at the University of Edinburgh.

The national strike among university lecturers was about to come to an end and, after three weeks of no classes, I was ready to get back to work. However, little did we know that, within 24 hours, not only would the rest of term be cancelled, but so would the whole academic year, including the dreaded end of first year exams in May.

Of course there had been whispers on chat sites and groups on social media. Students with “sources” high up in the university management supposedly had heard that they were planning to cancel all teaching imminently but we never expected it to escalate so quickly. Only days earlier, we had been assured that life would continue as normal on the week beginning the 16th March. But an email from the Principal to the whole student body quickly changed that and suddenly we were staring at the end of the year in mid-March.

The plan was that lectures would be delivered remotely via the recording system already in place for some courses and tutors could post tasks on the university’s website to be completed at home, so we would not miss out. Despite the commotion, food was still being served in the canteen back at halls (not ideal for enforcing social distancing!) and the lease on my room ran until June; so I, like most people, decided to hang around rather than head straight home. Nevertheless, within a few days, the campus, where around 3,000 students stay, was emptying out and by Friday 19 March it was a ghost town. So I packed up my room and jumped on a train back home to London.

In most circumstances, I imagine students would be overjoyed to get a couple months of extra holiday. However these clearly aren’t normal circumstances. The whole family is locked up at home and my younger brother is having remote lessons from school in his room while I listen to lectures in mine.

Social media has eased the tension as I am able to communicate with friends who are all in similar predicaments but it is still an odd phenomenon. The year feels incomplete and I keep expecting to be called back to attend a lecture or sit an exam. And, much as I love being at home, it is difficult to be away from the social aspect of university, especially just as the weather is picking up.

So far, university from home has been a mixed bag. Although technology allows lectures to be delivered over 100s of miles or tutorials to be held with people from all corners of the country – even the world – there is no substitute for the in-person experience. It's harder to engage with something so intangible; and the discussion and interaction of university is restricted by the limits of the internet.

Nonetheless, for the foreseeable future, I can attend my 9am lecture from the comfort of my bed. There are worse things to complain about.