Posted on: August 25, 2021
When I first went to university, I enjoyed the freedom of no longer being required to be at lectures or even (for some courses) tutorials. That meant I could borrow notes from friends who had attended, while I worked in the library to meet assessment deadlines, caught up on sleep, or socialised in the student union. In the beginning, this seemed an economical study strategy, but even though I read the lecture notes of classmates and course readings, I found it hard to make meaning from them, since I had missed the actual experience of being present in the lectures or tutorial discussions. It’s during these kinds of exchanges that, I later realized, ideas and information might be expressed that could trigger new developments in my own thinking. When it dawned on me that I was in danger of becoming irreversibly disengaged from my studies, I set about rebooting my involvement through more regular class attendance and involvement in tutorial discussions.
In mid-2021, after long periods of compulsory online study, I see a similar loss of engagement and willingness to interact by quite a few students in the classes I teach. Although attendance on campus has been possible at my university for all of the last semester, many students choose to view recordings of lectures and zoom tutorials from home or to attend tutorials without turning on their microphones or cameras. Although they may be able to meet the learning outcomes of their courses, I think they are disconnected from the relationships that develop between the teacher and the class, as well as among students. They don’t participate in discussions or take up opportunities to listen and respond to the views of others. This seems to me a real loss, since learning has important social and relational aspects as well as cognitive ones. I wonder, too, with the inevitable future shift towards blended and online courses, about the strategies teachers and students will need to develop to ensure that the key learning components of participation and engagement are not neglected.