'Lack of resources and poor internet connection' - Sheffield university students' frustrations as new academic year begins
As the new academic year gets underway, Sheffield students have been sharing their experiences of remote learning and the impact it is having on their studies so far.
Large lectures are currently a thing of the past after universities were forced to shake up their curriculum to become as safe as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Both the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam Unversity have adopted a “blended” approach that combines online learning with some face-to-face teaching where essential to comply with coronavirus safety measures.
But, just days into the new academic year students are already experiencing problems with the online aspect of teaching – a lack of quality online course materials and a slow or unreliable internet connection among the gripes that are hinderering learning.
Alison Romaine, an architecture student at the University of Sheffield, lives in a shared household in Broomhill and said she has struggled with her online learning experience so far.
“We try our best but because there are quite a few of us in our house and all of us need the internet to learn, I have to sit on the stairs to get an internet connection,” she said.
"The bandwith is being used up by everybody so now we need to increase our internet because we no longer have university facilities to do that.”
The 21-year-old says that, as part of her course, she is allowed to use specialist facilities at the University of Sheffield.
But, this can only be guaranteed on certain days so that social distancing and other coronavirus measures can be adhered to.
Alison says that one of her housemates also had textbooks issues as it was given in Arabic instead of English, however they were unable to get to the library as access was only available at allotted times.
She added: “We’re expected to adapt to virtual learning and it be OK. We used to be told that we had to attend lectures because our learning wouldn’t be as good if we watched them online and now we’re watching it online and we’re told the quality of learning is just the same.
"We know it’s not. We get that we’re all adapting, the university staff are working so hard – especially the teachers – but it’s the fact that we’re being sold an idea that university is still the same. It’s just like, stop trying to pull the wool over our eyes, it’s completely different.
"It does look different and we understand why, but the consequences are weighted on students.”
Jed Penberthy is a second-year sports journalism student at Sheffield Hallam University and currently lives in a shared house in the Ecclesall Road area.
He said: “It’s frustrating that we’ve still got to pay the full money and it’s also frustrating that the quality of the resources aren’t going to be improved.
"Last year, I’d forgive having a bland powerpoint to read through because at least you’re having the face-to-face interactions – you can ask the questions as an when you want to with the powerpoint in the background.
"But, when it’s the only thing that you’ve got interating with on the course, you want it to be more vibrant and have more kick to it. The resources just aren’t as engaging as you’d hope them to be.”
Officials from both the city’s universities said they understood the issues that their students were facing this year.
A Spokesperson for the University of Sheffield said they recognised how important library resources were to their students.
They added in a statement: “In order to reopen them safely and within social distancing guidelines, we have had to introduce some temporary changes, including a booking system for library spaces. The safe reopening of further spaces is being reviewed daily with more spaces expected to open in the future.
“Our students have access to almost one million ebooks via our digital library and books that are not available online can be delivered to students free of charge, with the library team regularly adding to our digital collection. Any students in need of support or advice can contact our librarians via online live chat."
A Sheffield Hallam University also issued a statement in which they acknowledged that they understood the frustration caused by the change to the way students could study as a result of Covid-19.
The statement added: “We are doing all we can to provide the best possible learning experience whilst balancing our responsibilities to our students, to our staff and to our community.
“Our extensive preparations have made face-to-face teaching possible and some initial teaching has got underway this week, as we recognise that this is a vitally important part of the learning experience.
“We would urge any students requiring support to contact their dedicated advisors who can provide guidance on how to access the wide range of services available.”
Figures released by the university this week show that since the Autumn term began on Monday, 116 students and two staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The university has around 29,000 students and 8,000 members of staff.
In a statement on its website, the university said: “When we received notification of a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19, we follow detailed processes and procedures, including tracking and tracing to reduce onward transmission, communications to relevant staff and students, and deep cleaning of affected areas where appropriate.
The university said staff are supporting self-isolating students with phone calls ‘to check on their welfare’ and to offer ‘practical and emotional support’.