PhD Diary – February 2021

Here in the UK as of writing this post, children have returned to face-to-face teaching. I have spoken with people who work with Early Years (3-4 yrs) and Key Stage 1 (5-7 yrs), and they explained how many are months behind at a crucial point in their education. It is incontrovertible at this point to say that remote teaching has had a large impact on student learning. Within Higher Education, many have shown a remarkable adaptability at both a student perspective, but also from an educator’s as well. For people that show the ability to direct their own learning, we may see more blended teaching methods in the future. However, there are parts of the face-to-face experience that are not replaceable with a virtual variant.

As students return, it has given me a chance to reflect on the past year of remote learning and my personal experience. When teaching first went remote, I was about halfway through my Master’s thesis. That gave me the experience of postgraduate study in both a normal environment and a virtual one. It was rather an abrupt change to my studies and not having the option to be on campus did disrupt my usual workflow. Losing access to certain literature and face-to-face meetings was the largest impact of the lockdown. Upon submission of my thesis, there was little celebration compared to my undergraduate degree, and soon after I was starting my PhD.

Many current postgraduates will tell you that a PhD can be a lonely endeavour, and lockdown has only made that worse. I miss the serendipitous conversations with my peers, discovering new approaches to your work. Everything is now through emails and Zoom calls, which lacks that ‘water-cooler’ conversation that makes you feel a part of the university community. In terms of work ethic, conducting study from home has been a significant challenge. I pointed this out in previous posts, but I have difficulty with motivation and managing my time. During my time as an undergraduate, I would go into campus to be around others who are working, as it helped motivate myself to work as well. Not having that means the place I work and the place that I relax is one and the same. That being said, remote working is not all bad. The main benefit is that it is a comfortable place where if things get stressful, I can break away from what I am doing and go do something else. I have had moments where an idea has popped into my head when playing a game, I briefly stop playing and then make a quick note or find some reading around it for later. That ability to choose when I work has been liberating, helping me try out different techniques in reading & writing.

For many, remote learning is a blessing and for others it is a curse. For me, I see it as both and that a personal balance between the two is the ideal. The campus environment encourages deep thought, is a motivator for work in of itself and has accessible short social conversations. On the other hand, the home environment is one of comfort and exploration, where I can not only think about my work but also about myself. I look forward to being back on campus, but for now I want to best use the remote environment to prepare myself for when that time hopefully arrives.    

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