Online lectures are not the answer

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At this point, it is likely common knowledge that the University is planning to extend the teaching day until 7 pm throughout the week, starting for the upcoming academic year.
The reactions from students and staff alike have been of great variety. This change will affect life at University immensely, specifically the life at University that is so vividly advertised. Activities through societies, JCRs, University sports, college sports, as well as the overall college experience – all of which add to what students and management alike consider to be the ‘essence’ and assets of Lancaster University – have in the past taken for granted the fact that they can start their activities and training at 6.30pm latest. Will this no longer be the case?

Lancaster University’s Students’ Union began a discussion board online to gauge the student opinion and reaction – they were met with chaos. Hundreds of comments about various complaints, fears, and alternative suggestions to the original plan that seems already practically set in stone. Only 15 students engaging with the poll agreed with this initial plan to extend teaching hours. To contrast, over 350 students voted for the option to implement live video streaming of lectures. Over 150 students voted for an option that, almost three weeks deep into discussions, appears to be the only possible option to satisfy – albeit not please – everyone: the introduction of temporary teaching spaces.

The worries with the original plan are evident and immense. Students with disabilities, care needs, and mental health circumstances feel as though their comfort and hence, performance at university will be threatened by the extended teaching hours. One student with a disability fears a loss of the aid they require to get through the day: “People who have support workers and guides will struggle to find staff who will stay with them on campus that long – it’s hard enough trying to find support workers who will stay until 6 pm already”. It is possible that these students, as well as students with children, might even lose their sheer ability to attend the university with the extended hours. One mother explains: “My children are in childcare until 5.50pm, meaning I can’t even attend 5-6pm lectures or seminars due to the fact it takes me half an hour to get home”. Being at risk of missing one hour of lectures is terrible enough, but two might threaten her ability to perform her degree requirements at all.

However, to other students, the extended hours seem like a good plan, especially in the eye of what’s at stake. The value of the learning experience at Lancaster University would immediately decrease if students were to be told that they could no longer attend on campus and inside the facilities, but were forced to watch a lecture on a screen… something that they could have done at a cheaper, online university which they probably didn’t choose on purpose. For myself as a politics student, being in lectures and listening to political arguments is what motivates and fascinates me. It is probably my favourite part of being a student, and I learn so much from being in the room. Having tried to watch lectures I have missed due to illness using Panopto, I can say that, at least for myself, the experience is not the same emotionally, nor as efficient practically. I would be heartbroken if I were told I was part of the students who had to watch the lecture online instead of being allowed in the lecture theatre. Especially considering the commitment of time and money I have made by coming to Lancaster University.

Not only this from the student perspective, but the idea of live streaming may also come as a shock to lecturers. How many fellow students do we all know that don’t go to lectures with the full intention of ‘rewatching’ the lecture and then fail to do so, and hence possibly even fail their degrees? I, for one, know multiple. Lecturers must fear their content miss their audience, especially with a lack of ability to gather the students into a room – which, for one reason or another, always seems more useful. Another reason behind why the live-streaming is not feasible for lecturers worth pointing out is that a lot of lecturers refuse to use services such as Panopto, or even allow voice recordings done by students present in the lectures due to copyright conflicts.

An open letter to the University’s Vice-Chancellor has been organised by students Nathan Burns, Amara Betts-Patel, and Oliver Robinson. It points out the real reason for this division at hand: “a wider failure to consider the university experience of existing students in the strategic planning of the university’s future”. VP Campaigns and Communications at the Students’ Union Islay Grant worryingly states that it is clear from the FTO’s and Union staff’s recent meeting that “there is a lack of regard for the student opinion and experience”. There has since been a protest lead by Union president, Rhiannon Llystyn-Jones pushing for a repeal of this decision. The University needs to adjust its approach to a problem that was seemingly self-induced by the pursuit of university expansion in the intake and a simultaneous lack of consideration of both teaching and accommodation spaces available. Whether the open letter will affect much can of course not be foreseen, however I do urge everyone who opposes the extension of the teaching hours until 7pm to sign it, even if they don’t agree with the most popular suggested alternative solution as we can keep in mind the potential middle man hero of the temporary teaching spaces.

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