Studying amidst a pandemic: My virtual learning experience

When the clock struck 12 on New Year’s eve, I remember thinking that 2020 is going to be a happening year for me. I was about start a Master’s degree at RGU in two weeks, I had all my travel plans sketched out for the year and I couldn’t contain my excitement. But life had other ideas… Read more about my virtual learning experience.

Beginning a new Master’s degree

Swetha standing in front of RGU campus: My Virtual Learning Experience

Marketing was a newfound passion for me. As I stepped onto the RGU campus, I was excited to learn and utilise everything that the course had to offer.

Swetha Akshita, MSc International Marketing Student at RGU

The first eight weeks ran smoothly. We had on-campus classes, tutorials, group discussions and presentations. With just four weeks left for assessments, our course instructors were encouraging us to prepare and schedule meetings if we had any doubts. Aside from classes, I got to participate in many RGU:Union events, interact with my fellow students and build connections.

A few days later, news platforms were reporting on the spread of Coronavirus in the UK and the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic. I received an email from RGU announcing that the teaching would be switched from on-campus to online. There was panic and uncertainty initially. Some of my peers had booked tickets to go home and I had no idea what to do. After discussions with my family, I decided that it was best for me to stay in Aberdeen to avoid the risk of contracting the virus. A nationwide lockdown was imposed. Online classes began. University life has been never the same since.

The switch to virtual learning

The switch to online classes was fairly simple and easy. Every week, we had lectures over Zoom or Blackboard. If not that, pre-recorded lectures were put up for students to listen to on Campus Moodle. All of our lecturers were available on email and we were able to schedule video meetings when in need of elaborate discussions.

Since this massive change occurred very close to the ‘exams and assessments’ period, RGU implemented several measures to reduce pressure on students. For instance, a two-week extension from the original date of submission was automatically applied to all assessments. The University was extremely understanding and considerate of personal situations.

Swetha Akshita, MSc International Marketing Student at RGU

In my case, I could not submit one of my assignments on time. Because of the COVID situation, there was a delay in getting my medication which led me to fall very ill. When I contacted my course leader and explained my situation I was given an extra two-week extension for some assignments and a deferral for the ones I could not complete.

In addition to this, I was able to access all of RGU’s student services online. I obtained all of my course readings from the online library. I received visa and immigration advice as and when required. I felt that I was thoroughly supported by RGU through this difficult time.

The disadvantages

A major disadvantage of switching to virtual learning was that I missed human contact. I missed physically going to university, sitting in a class and participating in lectures.

Swetha Akshita, MSc International Marketing Student at RGU

The biggest part of university life is interacting with classmates, making new connections and forging new friendships. All of that had come to an abrupt end. Lockdown also meant that I could not participate in any curricular activities like going to student events, or visiting RGU SPORT and so on. It was extremely isolating and because I was deprived of these crucial elements of student life, sometimes, it was hard to remember that I was a student at all. Thankfully, with the virtual support of friends and family, I was able to get through this difficult period.

Blended learning approach

For the semester that started in September 2020, RGU adapted to a blended learning approach – a mix of online and on-campus classes.

Swetha Akshita, MSc International Marketing Student at RGU

It is great that students were finally able to physically visit the campus and attend classes through the blended learning approach. The campus is now fully COVID friendly with new measures put in place to ensure the safety of students.

While the campus is open for students to return, RGU understands that not all students might be able do so. For this reason, the university has also made it possible to continue studies online.

Over time, I have been able to accept and adjust to the new normal. After crossing initial difficulties, I have now realised that learning online helps me save a lot of time. I continue using RGU’s services from home and I’m happy to have the option of returning to campus whenever I am ready.

Here’s my advice to students joining RGU next year. RGU’s quality of education has remained unchanged through this time, and in 2020 were named Scottish University of the Year (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021). Go RGU!

The pandemic changed everyone’s lifestyle, so student life won’t be the same again. But that does not mean that you can’t make it memorable.

Swetha Akshita, MSc International Marketing Student at RGU

Engage in as many virtual events as you can, they are a lot more fun than you’d expect. Make the most out of the on-campus classes and activities when you are here, but also remember to follow the rules to ensure everyone’s safety.

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