Blog: Going to university during the pandemic

Published: 13 Aug 2020

Author: Paul Campbell
Blog: Going to university during the pandemic

I am a senior lecturer and admissions tutor at the University of Dundee. I am also a 2020 Churchill Fellow with an interest in developing interactive learning strategies that can optimally replace traditional teaching methods in the higher education sector.

"If you are a student starting university in September, think about any perceived issues you may have and discuss them with your admissions tutor." - Paul Campbell, Fellow

In a nutshell, this means I essentially favour ditching the old-fashioned lecture, whereby a classroom of students might have expected to sit and passively listen whilst taking occasional notes for 50 minutes or so. In its place, I believe there should be a very different experience where the emphasis is on thinking, on exploring and on free-flowing discussions led by the expert lecturer and mediated largely via in-class debate and collaboration with one’s peer group of fellow students. 

Adopting this strategy is not only more stimulating from the student’s perspective, but has also been proven to enhance general understanding, aid retention and improve attainment significantly across the spectrum of student ability.

However, whilst such educational benefits are clear and desirable, effecting such a profound change to an essentially conservative pedagogical culture remains a daunting task. Not least because of the increased demand on lecturers’ workloads, which would be required to prepare such sessions. Indeed, ‘daunting’ is an understatement – or at least, it would have been, had the present Covid-19 situation not radically altered many lecturers’ decision-making processes and, indeed, their general outlook on course delivery. Whilst the majority of universities quickly stepped up and adapted readily to the demands of online delivery during March, we at Dundee (amongst others) have grasped this opportunity to also catalyse a transition to interactive learning, embedding this new methodology and effecting a culture change throughout online (and eventually face-to-face) delivery.

What does all this change mean for students starting university in September? To pick but one area, it is clear that peer interactions will come to the fore in this new teaching and learning model. If you are a student, depending on your disposition, this prospect might fill you with an excited anticipation as you realise this is your opportunity to delve into true mastery of your subject matter. It will also allow you to have your queries and misconceptions addressed directly, and all the while enhancing your ability to communicate, negotiate, develop rapport and learn new leaderships skills.

On the other hand, the whole outlook might leave you with a fearful dread, especially if you are a naturally shy person now forced to take part in small-group debate, or brainstorm on your feet at a whiteboard. Trite instructions related to ‘facing up to your fears’ to one side, there are multiple obvious solutions to facilitate progress here. Perhaps developing a level of familiarity with your classmates and instructors ahead of time could help.

We are certainly fortunate in having a raft of social media and other virtual meeting platforms that could be exploited for purpose in either a formal instructor-led manner or even informally via ‘buddy’ systems with your own peers. Other, perhaps more fitting solutions will come from students themselves.

If you are a student starting university in September, think about any perceived issues you may have and discuss them with your admissions tutor. This will help develop a practical system that works for you and most importantly help you to overcome these, before the term begins.

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