Students have experienced a lack of consistency from the University of Exeter regarding online and in-person teaching co-existing depending on the department. Some people are experiencing both types of teaching.
A Registrar email was sent out on 25 August to update all students on how University teaching would be conducted this year. Safety measures that were outlined by the University encouraged all students to be ‘double jabbed’ in line with measures likely to be put in place by the Government. Regular bi-weekly testing, continuing to practise good personal hygiene and “continuing to wear face-coverings in shared indoor spaces.” The email stated teaching in Term 1 would be largely taught face-to-face, with student feedback taken into account, the best aspects of online such as ensuring lecture material is available to watch online, were also suggested.
In conversations with students, there seems to be a disconnect between what the University suggested in their initial Registrar email and what has actually been put into practice. Masks appear largely optional, with many students not wearing them around campus, and aside from the posters that appear, there does not seem to be much attempt University wide to encourage students to wear a mask.
When speaking to a group of students, Exeposé uncovered that some students had received emails regarding masks in their lectures, while others did not know their departments stance until they turned up. A third year Sports Science student, based purely on St Luke’s campus, discussed how she attended her first lecture in person where there was someone standing out front “handing them out at the door.” They suggested that this may be due to St Luke’s being a predominantly medical campus, therefore may be more likely to encourage masks. A student studying Philosophy, Computer Science and BSL stated, “in my first lecture, maybe 70 per cent of people were wearing masks” although they and their fellow students had received an email before lectures started asking them to wear face coverings.”
In my first lecture maybe 70 per cent of people were wearing masks”
In terms of online and in-person teaching there were mixed reviews. A third year Sports Science student mentioned that while their first lecture had been in-person the rest would appear online in a series of 12 minute long videos. They suggested that this felt like more work than attending in person as they “can take longer to watch” maybe up to half an hour per video. As this student’s seminars are in-person it seems there is even inconsistency regarding teaching within departments themselves.
The Philosophy, Computer Science and BSL student argued that online teaching was preferential because people learn at a differnt pace and have different optimal working times. “Last year I worked at 11 o’clock at night and now I am having to get to campus for an 8:30 lecture.” Referring back to the Registrar email’s suggestion that teaching will still be accessible online, the students Exeposé spoke to discussed the difficulty some of their lecturers had with setting up recordings or enabling students to join virtually. One student specified a seminar where a student had to join via Facetime on a friends laptop. While another student commented that in-person does not take into consideration students or lecturers with COVID-19 anxiety.
There was a general consensus amongst the students that the COVID-19 rules the University departments are still pushing feel redundant given that a number of students do not obey the rules they have been set, and that “most of the students sitting wearing masks in lectures have probably been clubbing the night before.” There is not only inconsistency across departments but also within them as several first and second year students are taught online while their third year counterparts are in-person. Exeposé contacted the University asking for a statement about the decisions they have made regarding teaching this year.
Most of the students sitting wearing masks in lectures have probably been clubbing the night before.”
A University spokesperson said: “We are delighted to welcome students and staff on to our campuses this year and deliver face to face teaching and social activities. We know the campus experience is so important for our students and staff – for teaching interactions, friendships and overall wellbeing.
“We have put in place the best possible protective measures that meet government guidance and student expectations on access to education. These measures include a comprehensive testing programme, vaccination campaign, cleaning operation, protected teaching spaces and ventilation as well as policies and support for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable. We strongly encourage all students, staff and visitors to continue wearing face coverings when in shared indoor spaces, particularly in crowded and enclosed spaces. Student, staff and community health and wellbeing is always our top priority. We stand ready to adapt and support students and staff throughout this academic year.”