Reflecting on an online/blended year
There were two main things that drew me to Warwick. The first was the nature of the course – in Linguistics, there’s a strong focus on being able to apply our knowledge of languge to real-world problems. The second was the sense of community, both at Warwick in general, and especially within the Linguistics Department.
Needless to say, when I came to the offer-holder day in early 2020, I didn’t expect my first year of university to be in the midst of a pandemic. Before joining Warwick in September, I worried that Covid and the new online/blended way of learning would disrupt the sense of community, and disrupt the way the course works. Starting university is nerve-wracking anyway, and the pandemic was a new obstacle.
I’m a first-year, so I can’t really tell you about how different the learning model or community is from before. But this doesn’t really matter. I can tell you about what I’ve enjoyed from this year, how we’ve all adapted to the situation – and how the community and learning model probably will come out stronger on the other side.
Last term, I wrote a blog about what we’ve learnt from online learning, as well as some of the things that have been challenging – so I won’t repeat it all again here. For now, I’d like to talk about one of the main benefits of online learning this year: a new exam structure.
We’re doing online exams, where (in Linguistics) we are allowed to access our notes and the internet. We’re taking our exams from home, and some are available to complete within 24 hours, some are available only for a couple of hours. This means that we are being assessed on critical thinking, and our ability to solve problems and build connections between different areas within our modules. Our exams aren’t focused around memorising and then spouting facts, which we would probably forget in a month’s time anyway.
The exam situation this year is much closer to real-life situations than sitting in a silent exam hall. It focuses on skills that will help us in the future. During revision, we’ve been able to spend time applying our knowledge and developing skills like criticality. The stress around forgetting key names or concepts is alleviated a little by the presence of our notes and the internet.
Whilst exam season will never be my favourite time of the year, I think that the new online exam system is more logical, beneficial and less stressful than before. It reflects the ethos of working with real-life problems – which is exactly why I came to Warwick.
Before starting university, I was nervous about how the online/blended approach to learning would affect our ability to meet new people and integrate into the community. Quite unavoidably, the pandemic has impacted this, but I’ve also been incredibly impressed by how much effort the societies and departments have made to welcome first-year and maintain the communities online.
The discussion in online seminars, group work, and society socials have allowed us to build new connections, whether it was the blended learning approach of Term One, or online approach of Terms Two and Three. When we were in the depths of lockdown three, societies (in my experience, Linguistics Society) held weekly online socials, like movie nights or games nights. We might not have met as many people as a ‘normal’ year, but I think that the friendships we have made are closer and stronger as a result.
From what I can tell, I think that we could learn a lot from this year. We’ve found ways to build and maintain a sense of community, and adapted to new ways of learning. Ultimately, the reasons why I decided to come to Warwick before we knew about Covid-19 remain the reasons why I love being here.