Thousands of students across the UK have started university this year with online classes and virtual freshers’ week activities due to the coronavirus pandemic. Here, 19-year-old Tanisha Nicholas in Taunton, who is starting her first year studying drama and acting at UWE Bristol, describes what her university experience has been like so far.
I had my first “class” this morning, which was a bit of an odd experience. I say “class” because we’re not actually studying yet, but it’s one of many sessions over the next few weeks designed for us to get to know our tutors and other students. The university is calling it Block 0.
I watched it from my bed, on my phone. I’m still living with my parents because I’m not due to move into private accommodation at university until next week. I was one of many students who got caught up in the A-level results chaos and, because I went through clearing, I missed out on a place in university halls.
I set my alarm just before 9am and got up just in time for the class to start. Annoyingly, I had problems connecting, and it took a good 10 minutes for me to join. It was very frustrating but tutors were really helpful and it seems I wasn’t the only one.
We have a Snapchat group for first-year students on the course – lots of people said they also stayed in bed for the class.
They talked about how they would be keeping us safe when we started our face-to-face classes. I will only have one practical lesson a week and everything else will be online. One of our modules is physical theatre and there were a lot of questions about it, like how are we going to do this with two metres between us? We didn’t really get an answer because no one knows how things will look in the next few months.
I asked how classes would work with the “rule of six” and they said they would be splitting people into groups of 11, which didn’t really make sense to me.
I got up and had breakfast this time because people were going to be able to see me today on camera. We had our first small group session on Microsoft Teams, which was a video call with 10 other people. Only five turned up though.
Our tutors had sent out what we needed to do on Blackboard: a detailed online timetable with all my scheduled classes. For this morning we were told we had to get to know each other, even though we already do, because we’ve had a group chat since summer when we all accepted our places.
We had to show each other where we live on Google Maps and what the view from our window looked like, and had to take a picture of a wall in our house and tell each other what it meant to us.
It was quite awkward. We didn’t really know what we were doing and even though we could see each other it didn’t feel the same as if we met in person. Before the six-person rule we were all planning on meeting up for a drink. That’s not really an option now.
I had another online class today at 12pm and again I had problems connecting.
This class was only for first-year students and there were about 80 of us there. A tutor showed us around the campus while he walked around on his phone. The picture wasn’t very clear but it was nice to see.
At 2pm I had a Pal call. Pal stands for peer-assisted learning and the university has said we need to do it once a week so they can check on how we are. I ended up joining really late because I didn’t know how to connect to the call.
We had another small group session again today. There were only five of us again, but there was a new person this time. She said she didn’t turn up on Tuesday because she didn’t know where to go.
None of this feels like a drama course at all, and at the moment I feel a bit disappointed. I feel like this will have an effect on students’ mental health. This experience can feel quite isolating and I think some people might feel as if they can’t achieve all the goals they want to this year. Though the university has been very supportive it feels a bit like our lives have come to a stop.
I had my final class with other first-years this week at 11am. Two tutors were telling us how to take notes.
We talked in our group chat afterwards and people said they already knew how to take notes and thought it was a bit pointless. To be honest, some of it all feels a bit repetitive.
It’s definitely not what I was expecting my first year at uni to be like, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.