Learning Digitally: The importance of slowing down

woman wearing mask with laptop in the background
Image Credit: Flavio Gasperini Unsplash. Remix by Joe Arton

In this post, University of Edinburgh Students Claudia Elijas, a 3rd year in Geophysics and Fraser McBain a student of Economics and Politics describe their embodied experience of the University’s transition from face-to-face to digital learning and teaching and the importance of slowing down for both mental health and productivity …

The lockdown forced me to slow down from the busy university life. I didn’t have to get up too early to walk for forty minutes to King’s Buildings anymore, nor pack my lunch in a rush in the morning, my field trips were cancelled… Although I missed that hectic routine, I knew I wasn’t going to experience it again any soon. For that reason, I had to accept the circumstances and learn to enjoy them in one way or another. It took a while, though, I felt like a sprinter that had gone past the finish line and didn’t know how to walk anymore.  However, keeping a similar routine to the one I had before and distributing my space at home (for instance, I always worked in the same specific place) was beneficial for my wellbeing.

Since the term was almost over, I didn’t have too many lectures to watch at home, but I can say I much preferred face-to-face teaching. It is mainly because when I attend a lecture all the other students help me focus on the lecture by being focused themselves, I’d very confidently say it’s teamwork! Even though in a lecture the professor is the knowledge conveyor, there is not a thorough communication if the students are not there to give feedback – either verbal or non-verbal. A new sort of relation between the two is created in the classroom. Hence, the fact that the lecturer wasn’t seeing us in real time felt strange and somewhat impersonal. That is why I preferred tutorials or labs, because our tutors and lecturers would join us on the video call and address us personally.

During the last few weeks of the semester I had to complete some maths hand-ins and two scientific reports based on lab work. More than ever, being in contact with my classmates became crucial for the better understanding and performance in those tasks. Furthermore, it also felt like a way to care about others, since all our social lives were reduced by mile. Hence why, some people in my course held online meetings every other day to work in groups. That way of working relieved stress and I felt that I was getting more things done. And last but not least, something I took advantage of during the virtual learning times was the Library online resources, especially for my reports.

Study life aside, having my free time planned made it more enjoyable sometimes. For instance, every Wednesday my flatmates and I cooked dinner together and watched a film, on weekends we baked and on Fridays we did some workouts together following the exercise recordings provided by the Sports and Exercise team. Moreover, some societies organised quizzes or talks that were quite engaging that helped keeping in touch with other people. I also got to properly enjoy the nature spaces in Edinburgh without them being absolutely crowded, I’m mainly talking about Holyrood park and the Meadows. Finally, the most valuable activities I resumed during these crazy times were drawing, reading and writing, they brought me peace and made me feel fulfilled by creating an intimate environment within my life.

In a few words, technology has enabled us to keep contact with others in order to carry on with our professional and personal lives. However, as human beings, we don’t only need that but the warmth and proximity of other individuals. The transition to virtual learning is not going to be done in a blink of an eye but there is a lot of people working on it to make it a better experience for everyone.

photograph of the authorClaudia Elijas

Claudia Elijas is going into her 3rd year of Geophysics. She is mostly interested in risk assessment of earthquakes and volcanoes. As much as she loves science, she likes to balance it with humanities fields such as    literature, philosophy and art.

For me, the transition from face-to-face to online teaching and learning presented both opportunities and challenges.

The effect of remote learning on my productivity was positive. Compared with before the pandemic, I had more time in my day to study, and, as a disciplined learner, I managed to get more work done in that day than I would have had I been at university.

The reasons for this are three-fold. Firstly, as a student who still lives in the family home, I spent a considerable amount of time commuting to university each day from Fife pre-lockdown. Studying on the commute was not a possibility for me: background noise puts me off my work. So, not having to commute allowed me to devote more time to reading and assignments.

Secondly, between classes, I often struggled to find a suitably quiet place to study on-campus, especially later on in the day: the library would be full and there was lots of chatter in other buildings. So, not being in Edinburgh meant I had the certainty of access to a peaceful place to study in my room between classes.

And thirdly, before and after class, when they were face-to-face, I often spoke a lot with others. However, when we transitioned to online learning, this was no longer possible. So, rather than talking, I had the space to reflect and recap on readings I had done before class, to ensure I could contribute effectively, and then I spent time after class thinking about what was said and how I could apply some of the critiques raised in my assigned work.

However, it was not all plain sailing. Remote learning, initially, had a significantly negative effect on my study-life balance. When I was in my house the majority of the day, and my computer and books were in front of me, I often succumbed to the temptation to just endlessly study.

This had two detrimental consequences. Firstly, the more I studied, the more I became exhausted and lost concentration. This meant that much of the work I was doing in the evenings was sloppy and contained silly errors. So, I had to spend much of the next morning redoing this, which I found very frustrating. Secondly, the more time I spent studying at the expense of socialising with others and exercising, the more I felt isolated and had low mood.

It took a while for these consequences to register with me. However, when it did become clear to me that work in the evenings was rather pointless, I started to devote more time to speaking with friends, taking part in Zoom pub quizzes with them and sharing recordings of myself piping with a fellow musician in the local pipe band. This lessened the feelings of isolation I had at the start of lockdown. But it also seemed to be beneficial for the work I was doing at university. By taking time off, and not thinking about studying during that time, I was able to revisit assignment pieces with fresh eyes, which allowed me to notice new things I could edit and critique.

Overall, my transition from face-to-face to online learning was mixed: there were some advantages and some disadvantages. However, the disadvantages, as discussed, were not insurmountable. I feel that whatever happens in the future, having undertaken remote working has allowed me to become a more disciplined time manager and my experience of it will hopefully stand me in good stead for what may be a job market with more opportunities for remote working in the future.

photograph of authorFraser McBain

Fraser McBain is a student of Economics and Politics at Edinburgh University. He is in the final year of his degree. In his free time, he likes to play bagpipes and badminton, and he enjoys walking, cycling and debating

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