• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

The universal experience of awkward silence in tutorials

BySummer Bennett Stein

Nov 13, 2023
The old college building at the university of Edinburgh

Three years out of the pandemic and yet the effects are still tangible. It goes without saying that the forced isolation and distancing forced everyone on to their phones and laptops and away from real socialising. I would argue real learning too. Covid turned educational methods on their head; Cheating? Easily done when you’re hidden behind a black screen. No need to challenge yourself by spending hours preparing for an exam. Dressing for school – what’s the point when you can do school under your duvet? Group projects? More like sit in silence behind your black screen. People turned inward, and rightly so. Mustering up the energy to unmute and contribute felt like a feat. Pressing a button to be heard? We’re not robots, after all. Covid behaviour felt so unnatural that most people shied away from embracing it. However, now that we’ve finally woken up from that fever dream, it upsets me to see that student energy at Edinburgh holds onto remnants of the Covid-imposed stilted learning style. I should preface that as a second year politics student, I will be commenting on the experience of first and second year tutorial atmospheres.

Remember those painful breakout rooms? I get deja vu when I sit in tutorials nowadays. I find that the tutor often walks in, maybe says hello, and us students act as though we’re scared of our own voices. We all got admitted into Edinburgh and have gone through the freaky and yet clarifying experience of settling into a completely new environment, so surely we are confident enough to speak. Yet the tutorial room has a numbing effect. 

What baffles me is as we all basque in the awkward silence that preludes the equally uncomfortable discussion, I can see my peers’ Google Docs brimming with their analysis of a reading. I know that sitting next to me are people with strong ideas about the concept at hand. I know that I have ideas in my head. And yet group discussions feel excruciatingly stilted. I am entirely guilty of contributing to this dynamic. I offer up the strained smile rather than comment in response to a tutor’s question and then kick myself afterwards for not just speaking. Shout out to those one or two people who overcome the silence and then feel guilty for dominating the conversation. 

Now I must ask myself the question – did pre-Covid generations actually have animated academic discussions or am I romanticising this not-so-distant past? I simply can’t help but feel that Covid shocked us into increased reliance on technology and decreased our confidence in our own voices. I can only hope that the third and final year seminar-dynamic will foster more lively discussions, in which students engage with and actually challenge each other. However, for the sake of younger generations, I hope we all remember to use our voices, even when it feels awkward.

Old College, Edinburgh University” by dun_deagh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.