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First Semester in Review

As university life has returned to a semblance of normality following a period of sustained disruption and change, The Student has been speaking to undergraduates as they reflect on this semester.

Uncertainty about a new mix of in-person and online teaching was commonplace among students at the start of the academic year.

Timetabling decisions saw some courses offering an almost fully in-person schedule, with others left with minimal contact time each week.

Over two months on, students say they have noticed a divide in their patterns of study in relation to teaching methods.

Speaking to The Student, a second-year language student said: “I’ve noticed that I have prioritised the courses that I have in-person over the course that is fully online”, a sentiment shared by others.

“In person courses”, they go on, “feel so much more real and engaging, meaning I’ve found myself forgetting about the online ones”.

Others are keen to praise teaching staff. A student told us that “my lecturers have been very engaging, offering Q&A sessions and regularly keeping in touch”.

Whilst many agree that academic staff have risen to the challenge of online teaching, some students have criticised the inconsistency between courses.

“Some lectures were just PowerPoints with voice overs. [At the end of this semester], I still don’t believe that it has been of a standard worth paying £9,000 for!”

Separately, frustration is growing regarding strike action that is due to disrupt teaching toward the end of the semester.

In an ongoing dispute about pensions, a recent UCU ballot means that some staff will be unavailable and on strike from 1-3 December, a move that  the Vice Principal Students, Professor  Colm Harmon, has said he is “disappointed” about.

Outside of classrooms, university life has been markedly different in other ways from last year.

For many, the primary frustration with university management that existed at the start of the semester – namely that university-run social events were opening, but lectures remain limited to 50 people in-person – remains.

“Irrational”, said one student when asked how to describe the decision for EUSA’s Big Cheese club night to be permitted to reopen, whilst teaching remained partially online.

The university’s Main Library, which sees hundreds of students walk through its doors each day, has strictly enforced mask wearing all semester, with regular announcements and library staff patrolling every half an hour.

“I understand why we have to wear masks in the library, but it does seem quite hypocritical and arbitrary that events like Big Cheese are open mask-less where people are more likely to pass on infection”.

Put simply, many students have expressed their belief that “if Big Cheese can open, we should be able to have in-person lectures”.

Despite increasing Covid rates over the course of the term, Edinburgh’s students have been able to enjoy a relatively liberal approach to social contact, unlike the 2020-21 academic year, during which strict limits on social contact were enforced by police.

Asked by The Student to reflect on their social experiences this semester, many students have been positively surprised at the sense of normality that has returned so quickly after the pandemic.

“With clubs/bars being open, it’s made it much easier to socialise and make friends, but the Uni’s lack of in-person teaching has meant we’ve had to go the extra mile to meet new people”.

Looking forward, it remains unclear whether the University of Edinburgh intends to continue its hybrid approach to teaching beyond this academic year.

Whilst many students would support such a move – with some emphasising the convenience of online lectures, including the ability to pause and rewind for note taking – others have reservations.

“In a hybrid system, online classes become the annoying ones that you have to cram into your schedule rather than being proper classes that deserve your full attention”, says one student.

“I don’t believe the hybrid system is worth the £9,000 price tag, so I hope the university will consider relaxing its rules”.

As second semester approaches, students will be awaiting news about the university’s approach to teaching and covid measures for the future. 

Image of the University of Edinburgh Old College via Flickr