Being a student in normal times is already straining… most of us balance university, earn a living, getting initial work experience (e.g. internships) while trying to maintain some fun and visiting one or the other students party (for networking …obviously 🙂 ). Being a student during a global pandemic is scary, or frustrating at the very least.
Let me add a disclaimer here, living and studying in Germany is already something many (young) people dream of and undoubtedly Germany handled Covid-19 comparably well, so every challenge described in the following can be seen as complaining about first world problems. Nevertheless, Germany’s Universities or more generals its educational system is not well known for being the frontrunner of digitalized learning. Some institutes are coping better than others, either since they already put more weight on providing digitalized learning and examination services in the past or they quickly adapted to it.
No question, nobody could have expected a global crisis and in the rearview mirror it is always easier to point out what could have been done better than during times of uncertainty and the urgent need to take some action. So instead of throwing accusations and blame around, which is a) leading nowhere and b) I am in no position at to do anyways, let’s focus on what can be done to mitigate some situations. Moving to digitalized teaching offerings can bring along great benefits, but how the rapid changes made necessary by Covid-19 have been implemented also made way to some hardships, which could have been mitigated with more time and a more stable economic and social situation. Thus, I’d like to look at some problems that arose for students in the past months and give some examples on how to deal with them.
Physical distancing and closed university facilities:
University and schools are more than just lecture or classrooms. They provide safe (and hopefully quiet) learning environments like libraries, group workspaces, offer affordable eating and sports facilities and not few students spend a huge fraction of their day here. In order to limit the spread of Covid-19 most facilities have been shut down with quite severe consequences for some people affected. Home office sounds like no big issue, if (and that’s a big if) you can work and study under acceptable conditions from home. This includes having enough space and the equipment, the quiet and low level of distractions. Especially underprivileged students might only afford small rooms and moderate WIFI access, where separating life and work is easier said than done. Closed canteens means cooking from home which could end up in increased expenses of living or decreased nutritional intake- Moreover, considering physical distancing and shutdown of social life facilities as bars, (university) sports and so on, students living on their own might feel lonely soon, increasing mental pressure. Some tips that have been shared from fellow students are:
- At the end of your (university) work try to put away you work equipment, rearrange your desk if you are not able to switch rooms and adapt your environment to help you get into the “leisure time mood” more easily and relax.
- If you live on your own, keep up a routine for catching up with friends from university regularly over phone and preferably video calls. Talking even more with your family can also help feeling more connected and might reduce your parents’ worries 🙂
- Plan in breaks regularly and try to go outside. Having a lot of online lectures and prepping for (remote) exams you can easily be stuck in one room all day long and feel caged in. So, go outside and if possible, take also part of your working time outside. Shifting to printed-out slides or actual books (yeah, still there) for example can be a nice change to staring at screens all day long. Let nature be your extended office or living room.
Digital Lectures: Curse or blessings
Many students would agree that having a recording from a lecture is a nice asset. You can rewatch more difficult parts and it supports exam preparations, not to mention the option to miss a physical lecture and not needing to rely on someone else’s notes (not my personal favourite either to be honest). But having 100% online lectures (of which some might not be recorded officially) is something different. Some students just like to be physically present and interact more with the professor if the setting allows. Going to the university and dedicating this time to listen to the specific lecture can motivate, discipline and structure your day. In any way it is tempting to do something else while listening to an online lecture and concentration is easily lost. And that’s even without bad sound quality, robot voices and connection issues. If you are a person like me who regularly asks questions in classes and lectures online lectures could also make this more difficult. At least I personally feel that the hurdle to interact becomes a bit greater remotely. Moreover, the focus in many institutes is now on delivering lectures and it seems that practical sessions like programming exercises were reduces to decrease the overwhelming workload which also put on university employees and lecturers in these times of rapid adaptation to crisis teaching operations.
- Thus, communication becomes more important than ever. Ask the question in the online meeting. Write that mail, when you feel the need to clarify topics. Be tolerant but demand the interaction (remotely) if you see your learning progress stagnating and frustration increasing.
- If you miss some learning offering suggest online tools to support teaching personnel in delivering content.
- If you liked studying in groups before, take initiative and schedule online group sessions with your study peers. Important, not only schedule and meet once but stick to it and form a routine. Discussing problems and sharing insights is vital to the learning process and many study programs encourage students to work together in teams to prepare exams.
- If you miss studying in the library because you’re lacking motivation at home
- If you’re facing unfavorable working conditions address the university or the student’s council. Many institutions are highly aware of the increased pressure on students and provide great offers and support for individual cases.
As mentioned in the beginning: Many parents just can’t financially support their children during their studies such that their children could focus solely on education. That’s where financial aids programs come in, but let’s be honest. Some families can’t pay a student’s room in another city but are deemed to wealthy for their kids to be eligible for financial aids. Thus, many students need to balance working for their degree and working to afford housing and living. Personally, I enjoyed working during my studies a lot since I had the opportunity to work in positions which complemented my study programs. You can get initial work experience and extend your skill set and network while making a living for your studies which you would need anyways. But being able to get such positions and work already in the area of your studies is not always possible and highly individual with respect to the study program. No matter if you have worked in a café, the gym or as working student in a bigger company during your studies – Covid 19 makes it harder to make a living for students. Necessary lockdown measures led to layoffs of temporary contracts, many working student contracts are not extended due to the high economic uncertainty and finding a new student job becomes harder. Even working in academic positions at the university, which has been deemed a quite safe job opportunity before, the unexpected circumstances showed consequences. If you’re lucky enough to keep your students’ job and are now allowed to work from home, fulfilling your tasks might have gotten trickier now. It’s easy to overlook “the intern” or “the working student”, if the other team members are busy adapting to working from home themselves, facing days full of remote conferences, uncertainty and the outlook to reduced working hours.
- If you are in financial distress, research about extra financial aids targeted for students. The university or your student’s council may have more information for you and can help you dealing with this situation. Since mid of June, students studying in Germany (both international and national) can apply for fast financial aid, if they are in need due to Corona, which doesn’t need to be paid back (more info here: https://www.xn--berbrckungshilfe-studierende-06cf.de/start)
- If you feel lost in homeoffice, talk to your manager and try to make them aware that you have great potential, but you need guidance and tasks to make use of that potential. During these crazy times some team members might have just focused on other aspect and were unintendedly not aware of the student waiting in home office for tasks to be shared.
- If you got laid off and help troubles finding an equal position as before, stay open for different tasks and industries. Some companies are in desperate needs of helping hands on short notice since Covid-19 (I.e. online retailers, logistics, health equipment manufacturers).
Lastly, I also wanted to state one immediate positive aspect, which has been enabled by fast adoption to digital teaching operations: Many students visited family and moved temporarily back home from the city of their university. Sometimes this means moving more into the countryside, enjoy being home, where more space is available in the home office and a bigger garden awaits you to take lectures and exams online in.
Even if your university already starts loosening measures, I hope you found some tips helpful. I am confident that the future will see more home office and digitalized learning offerings and many positive changes coming from corona regards digitalization will prevail. Personally, I feel that my university handled the crisis very well. I have been informed at all time, could perform my student position from home and luckily were able to rely on a great emotional support system consisting of close friends and family. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and, in the position to keep on studying and educating yourself. Because if the future needs something, then it is great (digitalized) minds.