It’s September 2020, the Leaving Cert results are out and students are returning to college. This past year, the effects of Covid-19 have been felt in each sector of the world and colleges are no different. Therefore, it is only natural that for those entering or returning to college during a pandemic, it will look different.
Here is a look at what changes have been implemented and what this could mean for the incoming students.
In an effort to prepare the campus for the incoming students, colleges have implemented a number of new regulations and safety guidelines for the safety of both students and lecturers. One of the most prominent changes in college life this year is the move to ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended’ learning. This method will involve learning the material through both online lectures, and on-campus activities.
This method of learning has already been introduced in some colleges, such as Griffith College, however, this is the first year it will be largely implemented into all major Irish college courses.
The main lectures will be moved online. These are the classes that all the students would attend, but now, would be difficult to hold while maintaining social distancing guidelines. According to the UCD website – the “online lecture material will allow students to work at their own pace, where and when this suits them”. This will make it easier on the students who could not make it in due to health or transport concerns. It will also allow them to review raw lecture material when they need to.
The on-campus learning will consist of the smaller seminars groups, laboratories, and practicals. By splitting the classes into smaller groups, staggering the start times and keeping to strict schedules, classes will be held safely.
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Some of the drawbacks to this method of teaching are becoming apparent though. According to NUIG the “biggest challenges [they]will face is the application of social distancing regulations which will limit the capacities of our teaching and research facilities”. The students will experience restricted access to materials that are available to them on campus. These can include items such as laptops and computers, or the on-campus resources like Disability Support, counselling and the library. Students who do practical courses such as science or computing will now only have limited access to labs to do their project’s. The practical sessions will go ahead, according to UCD’s information page. However it may cut the session times shorter to accommodate for all of the classes. For personal projects, the students will be able to book times for their practicals and labs but availability will depend on demand and capacity of the room.
Extra curricular activities, such as clubs, societies and student council meetings will also be affected. Socialising is a big part of college life. Just coming out of lock-down, that need to socialise will have increased for those returning to college during a pandemic. With safety measures in place, they may be allowed to continue. NUIG has said that their societies held virtual events, which presumably will continue in the coming academic year.
In many of the bigger universities such as Trinity,UCD and NUIG, many students use the offered accommodation services. This service seems to have the least amount of impact on the new guidelines. Students who are returning to college from outside of Ireland’s green listed countries will have to self isolate for 2 weeks in their accommodation. For now, no guests are permitted within the apartments during reopening. Later, if visiting is permitted, students may not have people staying overnight. It is recommended that students host most of their social gatherings in small groups outside of the residencies.
While attending college in Ireland has always been expensive, people have questioned whether it is justifiable to charge the same fee this year. Due to the reduced access to the college and it’s resources, it has been debated on whether the fees should be discounted to account for this. Both UCD and Trinity have stated on their website that they will not reduce their fees. This is due to their aim to provide the same quality of education as before. Nor will they be obliged to give full refunds if students must return home due to a second wave. In some cases only the deposit fee can be returned or, if deferring, put on hold until the next year.
The new hybrid learning scheme may bring unexpected costs to the students. Examples of this include students who have previously relied on college laptops or computers to do their work. Many of these computers have software already attached for the students to use, such as Microsoft Suite, Photoshop and video editing software. Students may have to invest in buying a laptop if they need to have access to online learning materials. For those students, and the ones who already own laptops or computers, this can include buying the editing and writing software mentioned previously.
Another nationwide effect of the pandemic was the reduced capacity on public transport (Dublin Bus is currently operating at 50% capacity and Irish Rail is also operating at a reduced capacity). In 2016 the CSO found that 24% of third level students rely on public transport to get to college. Now with the number of students attending college has grown, one can presume that that number has grown. For those students returning to college in a pandemic, these transport changes may restrict a student’s ability to travel. Especially those who travel cross country to attend colleges in different counties. Students who use public transport may have to reschedule their routes to get to college on time for classes and hope that the vehicle has not reached its max capacity.
College life is changing
The college life of a student in the 2020/2021 academic year will look a lot different than previous ones. For some, this year will bring some hurdles to jump over. The new regulations are both expected and needed to keep everyone safe. We must keep in mind those who have been and will be affected through the various changes both on campus and nationwide. The colleges have promised to provide as much support as possible to the student’s returning to college during a pandemic. Let’s hope that these students and colleges remain safe during this unusual academic year
How do you think college life will be affected this year? Comment below!
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