We at Terrier Marketing have been fascinated by the changes taking place within the edtech sector, most importantly during 2020 and through the pandemic.
As a student myself, I have taken a particular interest into researching the challenges and struggles university students have faced, whilst attempting to maintain the quality of their educational experiences, and get value for money. The research we conducted with university students from around the UK, provided some interesting insights into online learning during the pandemic.
“The lack of interaction with lecturers or seminar tutors…makes it much more difficult to engage in learning and get a deeper understanding for the course content”. (Psychology student at the University of Nottingham, 20)
The key themes that emerged amongst the small focus group we asked, highlighted issues of interactivity, financial inequality and a lack of knowledge surrounding how to use many edtech platforms. Therefore, what lessons can we take from the pandemic about online learning at university, to perhaps support the edtech sector in its endeavours?
1. Wi-Fi, and digital poverty is a real issue.
“I have been finding connectivity a problem especially living in student accommodation where Wi-Fi connections are not as strong”. Bio-Medical student at the University of Warwick, 20
“The biggest challenge I have faced using digital platforms this semester has been relying on a WiFi that is being used by 7 online students in my house. When a lecture cuts out or when a lecturer’s audio is occasionally of poor quality, I can miss information that I cannot then get back”. History and Politics student at the University of Loughborough, 20
As a student myself, a distinct feature of working in second year housing was unstable or weak WiFi connection, in a house shared by other students. Conscious of how much we were spending, it’s fair to say that we went for the cheapest options and lacked the resources to improve our connection. (We also found that in many student heavy areas connection was subject to particularly slow broadband speeds). Not only was WiFi connectivity a key hurdle to online learning, but so too was having access to the right devices. A number of my peers have struggled with slow, or damaged computers and laptops, with no current financial means to have them replaced. Therefore, financial concerns can most definitely have a great impact on a student’s online learning experience. Therefore, what are Universities doing to bridge a growing inequality gap, and convince those from less privileged backgrounds that a university education is financially feasible?
2. Perhaps the education of our educators should be our first priority
“I mostly struggled with lecturers not being able to use the software to its full advantage, for example, not knowing how to allow people to share screens or being unable to annotate things remotely”. Architecture student at the University of Bath, 20
We all know that adapting to online environments is not easy for anyone, especially for those previously reluctant to get engaged and involved with tech. From experience, and that of others, I have witnessed many a university educator reluctant to succumb to the digital world that we now face. However, with the coming of the pandemic, those who have been somewhat resistant have had no option but to embrace change. Therefore, a crucial step in easing both students and staff into this new reality, will be the education of our educators, putting substantial amounts of worthwhile time and funding, into ensuring both students and staff are comfortable with the challenges of online learning.
3. Organisation and Overload
"I found it hard to stick to watching my lectures on time, as all were recorded, and so had less of a daily schedule. There were lots of emails sent every day so often missed a few. Also my tutors don’t know how to annotate on zoom which makes tutorials difficult”. Architecture student at the University of Bath, 20
When the whole world went into lockdown, of course so too did Universities. Without the morning rush of packing up lunch, running to catch the bus to campus, and making lectures on time, many students found themselves less motivated, and their daily routines in tatters. Not only this, but they found themselves confronted with a digital overload, that myself and many of my peers found somewhat overwhelming and difficult to navigate. With a constant stream of information, often in the form of dozens of emails and notifications per day, it became tricky to keep up. As a result, the pandemic has most definitely widened the market for programmes centred around; student organisation, distraction blocking and wellbeing. Learning from the comfort of one’s own bedroom presents a number of its own challenges that those in the edtech sector are continuously attempting to adapt to.
4. Group work and Interactivity
“I found it hard to do group work effectively. Online meetings limit so many ways of communication such as body language and facial expressions. Obviously it gets through in video but it’s not the same”. Architecture student at the University of Bath, 20
“Personally as a medic, I have mostly struggled with practical elements of my course which do not transfer as well over zoom and teams, generally requiring physical practice”. Medical student at the University of Nottingham, 21
Of course, there are many aspects of university learning that will naturally not translate well into an online environment. Interacting with others via a computer screen will always be less relaxed, than that of meeting in person, and this is difficult to avoid. As a result, many students have experienced some level of anxiety when participating in video calls, due to its more stilted nature. This anxiety has made many, including some of my peers, more reluctant to interact with lecturers, ask questions or share their views online. Therefore, any steps that can be taken within education to make calls increasingly amiable and relaxed, will always be a benefit for the student community.
We at Terrier Marketing want to say a big thank you to the students who took part in our focus group for sharing their 2020 experiences with us, and contributing to a student centred perspective for the edtech sector. It is safe to say that this information has been eye-opening, and contributed to a growing knowledge of how the UK’s higher educational system is ever-changing, particularly in these trying times.