The New Normal: Adjusting to Lockdown Learning

08 / 07 / 20

By Cameron Irons

Nobody truly foresaw the devasting and frightening impact this virus would have on not just university and student life, but our entire world as we knew it. News bulletins reporting an infectious disease spreading on the other side of the planet was not a priority nor a worry for most of us. Many of us will have had a similar experience and I believe it would be effective to reflect on the impact which this lockdown has had on students, how we pulled through it, and how we must accept the ‘new normal’. It is important for us to look at how we move forward with our studies, despite the overwhelming realities of a global pandemic. Whether we like it or not, the consequences of this crisis will likely reshape the rest of our journey at university. Accordingly, we ought to consider the positives and benefits amongst the doom and gloom.

As a second-year law student at the time of the outbreak, intense revision for the exams was approaching, especially with three separate modules to balance. As focus turned to the dreaded exams and deadlines, the last thing we needed was for campus to abruptly shut down, but of course everything was to soon close. The period in which offices, schools, pubs and shops began closing and boarding up, was rapid and extraordinary. Most of us were either fleeing back home, panic buying, panic partying or staying put. It was hard to believe and sad to witness our campus go from busy teaching mornings and buzzing nightlife, to being totally deserted. It is safe to say that virtually nobody was entertaining the thought of exams or revision as the situation continued to escalate. The whole experience was unsettling and surreal, nobody quite realised the extent of what was happening.

In spite of the intensifying situation we were going through, the state-imposed lockdown did in fact present some positive factors for many students. All of the pubs and clubs were closed. Whilst that may seem a negative for students at first, it actually proved rather beneficial. Personally, I found myself being far more productive when social life was essentially barred. Many of us read more, studied more and researched more. We had much more spare time for revision and catching up on areas we were struggling with. Lots of us had far more time to relax, think about what matters and focus on what was needed to be done. I also found that studying via online group calls with friends was more engaging and focussed than the usual library environment. People could project their screens to the group, access documents and share notes, all whilst discussing ideas and past papers with one another. These online group sessions with friends certainly took attention away from what was happening around us. When it came to covering course content we had not yet been taught, it was a challenge at first, but I found myself far more interested and engaged with the content, simply because I researched and understood it independently of any teaching. This sort of learning is the norm for level 3 and 4 students, especially in law, so it was constructive for me to practise self-study and prepare myself for third year. The lockdown proved to be an opportunity to properly engage with coursework, produce ideas and criticisms of my own, without the usual need for lectures and tutorials. Another positive I found during lockdown, was the ability to totally structure and plan my own learning. We followed no set timetable, meaning we could access the virtual lectures and notes when we felt like it. While this could have provoked procrastination and delay for some, it definitely meant never running the risk of sleeping in. One could even look at the lack of lectures as a benefit. Instead of sitting with loud keyboard tappers, the coughing and giggling, the bright laptop screens around you, many would have found the peace and tranquillity of their bedrooms or home-study a refreshing alternative. However, many would have found the lack of normal lectures a complete setback and ineffective. Those stuck at home may have had distracting siblings or noisy TV’s constantly annoying them, the lack of silent study would have been a disadvantage for them.

These positive factors during the lockdown will obviously not be shared by everyone, but it is important for us to remember we were all in that same boat which will be an experience we should try and turn into a positive. The pandemic has undoubtedly had an overwhelming impact on mental wellbeing. Student stress about nearing deadlines, heaps of studying and exams in new environments, without campus facilities. Many were deeply frustrated at the academic consequences and uncertainties that we could do absolutely nothing about. On top of this, we worried if we would get the virus, we worried if our friends and family got the virus. We were saddened at the inability to see our grandparents, unable to visit restaurants, pubs, clubs, parks, shopping centres, anything and everything.

It may seem a stretch to attempt to view the lockdown as a positive experience, but it would cause us no harm to see at least some benefits of it. Perhaps people prefer the home-study style whereas others did not. Perhaps people performed better whereas others did not. What is important is to review how you yourself handled it, take the positive elements of it, carry those into the next academic year. Lockdown learning may very well be the new normal, campus may continue to be restricted thus it is vital we are prepared for it. We are all familiar with the new realities and rules so nothing should come as a shock. There is no point moping or complaining about how different campus or courses will perhaps be, instead we should all maintain a positive mindset, keep our determination and look forward to a different sort of year.

I hope this has made you consider your own experience as a student and I trust that you share my position on how we ought to move forward. I believe that our university has a very strong sense of community and camaraderie, we will no doubt support one another in the coming months. Anyone who feels lost or anxious about the uncertainties and changes, should remember the immense amount of support available at Dundee Uni. Us law students in particular, are lucky to have an even stronger bond within the law society. A society I would like to stress, is for all of you. Now more than ever it is crucial that nobody feels left out. You should feel comfortable contacting the society if you are seeking advice, help or a just a friendly chat.