How emotionally affected are students at the University of Groningen because of the online education? How much emotional support do students receive, and how effective is it? The Northern Times finds out
This is the second part in a series about the impact online education has had so far on students, and how it has (not) affected the quality of education at the University of Groningen. This time, we talked to ‘Eli,’ who shared their experience with online education.
By Adriana Dancu
Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, many schools and universities both in the Netherlands and around the world were forced to switch from in-person education, to online-education. Of course, this change has forced both students and teachers to adapt to this new situation, while at the same time they have to deal with the pressure to perform at least as well as they did before the pandemic. Needless to say, this change has affected everybody, has created even more distractions for students, and has generated criticism regarding the high-quality education that universities promise (and sometimes charge tens of thousands of euros a year for). ‘Eli,’ a student at the University of Groningen, shared their experience with online education, and the struggles they have faced so far, especially how emotionally challenging online education has been.
“There was a structure to it all”
Last week we spoke to ‘Robin,’ who shared her experience with online education at the RUG, and what issues she finds important for the University to address. Speaking to ‘Eli’ this week, we have discovered a common denominator for what is really important for students: structure. “There was a structure to it all. Now, with online education this structure seemingly collapsed” says ‘Eli.’
They found it very difficult to be productive having online education. ‘Eli’ says that while, during in-person education, this structure was ‘imposed’ by the teachers, and by peer-pressure, in online education students’ self-discipline is crucial if you want to actually learn things, not just study to pass a course.
‘Eli’ also says that, at least in their case, online education meant more individual work. They argued that their programme gives more homework and more preparation work for before classes, which is different from and less informative than in-person education. Indeed, adapting to a new learning environment can be very difficult, but when you have to work even more than before, while maybe not having an ideal learning place at home, it is very stressful and can significantly influence your productiveness.
Nevertheless, ‘Eli’ says that they had the opportunity to gain as much knowledge as during in-person education; of course, this depended on the teachers and on the courses. Although many improvements are necessary, ‘Eli’ says that the teachers tried to still provide the high-quality education that the RUG is known for.
“The bond between a teacher and student, no matter how this would have been in in-person classes, is compromised in this online environment”
For many students, social interaction between them and their peers, and between them and teachers is crucial for both their performance and their mental health. Online education does not allow for that social interaction that students are used to: “despite the effort of the teachers to remain a form of normalcy it is much more difficult to befriend people, especially if you have never seen them.”
“To have people with whom you can share your worries, with whom you can complain together, or check each other’s homework, has been important to me when I started my studies. I could not have done my study if I did not have people to rely on, to hang out with. This social interaction, the opportunity to befriend people, is lacking in online classes. And this can definitely make people feel more alone,” says ‘Eli.’
Likewise, the relation between students and teachers is affected as well, according to ‘Eli.’ You can no longer reach out to them after class, but you now have to email them, which (understandably) takes a lot more time than before until you receive a reply.
“I wish that there was a mutual understanding that this is difficult for both sides”
While ‘Eli’ argues that they received great support by the study advisor and some teachers, there is this unspoken premise that teachers are granted more time and understanding during this unprecedented time, but that students must do the same amount of work as before, if not more: “we all have to adjust to this situation, but in some cases, with some teachers, it feels that students have to accept it and just take it, and it is not that easy.”
‘Eli’ recalls an incident where they felt they did not matter to their teacher; as if the effect that online education had on their performance was not important. They informed their teachers about their mental health situation and that that might affect their performance. ‘Eli’ said that their teachers seemed very understanding with their situation; however, when they had not started yet on a final project, a teacher acted very unpleasantly surprised even though the teacher was informed by ‘Eli:’ “it felt like they disregarded my mental health.” Support for students on the part of teachers is very important now, and many teachers try to be more understanding and supportive, however, it takes just one teacher to make you feel even more overwhelmed than you already are.
“While the RUG does try to maintain their quality of previous years, I think the online environment does not allow for this level to be reached,” argues ‘Eli.’ And the fact that students are still required to pay an even higher tuition fee then before, is not logical.
‘Eli’ said that what they miss the most is the social interaction they enjoyed in in-person education. Having friends and teachers you can talk to at all times, and whom you can meet is very important for students’ performance and mental health. Online education makes university life more difficult than it is: “is it fun? No, but I have gotten used to it.”
‘Eli’ is a pseudonym as the original interviewee’s name has been changed at their request.