New year, same online semester

Dearbháil Kent interviews students and staff about their thoughts on the online delivery of the second semester

Most students would agree that initially the prospect of going to a 9am class online in your pyjamas from the comfort of your own bed was very attractive, at least at the beginning of the academic year. It is almost a year now since the announcement of coronavirus’ arrival in Ireland and few students had anticipated the pandemic to last as long as it has. There was a brief glimmer of hope towards the close of the first semester when students were given a slithery promise of in-person classes; these hopes were only to be dashed with stricter restrictions, meaning any hope of going back to college was now a pipe dream.

“I would have been in favour of more in-person classes, but I understand that it was a necessary move, especially in light of the increase in cases and deaths after the Christmas period.”

Students and staff were left disappointed and upset, but many of them had anticipated online classes for the second semester. ”I would have been in favour of more in-person classes,” wrote MPhil classics student Patrick Hayes. “But I understand that it was a necessary move, especially in light of the increase in cases and deaths after the Christmas period.” It is true that College, and universities nationwide, have a responsibility to reduce the spread and prevent reproduction of the virus on campuses. This responsibility was recognised especially at the start of the pandemic when universities were seen as a potential breeding ground for the spread of the virus. This has been one of the successes of third level institutions in the times of coronavirus.

“[I] had this optimism for the entire term last year that there would be at some point at least some in-person classes.”

On the other hand, universities also have a responsibility to their students to provide adequate education and services to uphold their participation and engagement. Senior Fresh European studies student Vanessa Nunan “had this optimism for the entire term last year that there would be at some point at least some in-person classes.” Students across the country can certainly relate to how Vanessa feels about the loss of in-person classes, and not being able to hang out with classmates – before, during, after and in between lectures. 

Those studying languages face additional challenges with the move to online learning, as it is quite difficult to replicate that engaging classroom environment that encourages you to look at the technicality of the syntax and grammar of a language that is not your own. Dr. Rebecca Usherwood, Assistant Professor in Late Antique and Early Byzantine Studies, admitted that she was heartbroken when College announced the move to online teaching for the second semester. “I miss being in the classroom, and I miss the natural interaction you get from being in a classroom and working in a building with my colleagues and students. I love teaching, and it has been so sad to realise that it won’t happen the way we would like this year.”

Equally, Trinity has a responsibility to deliver its prestigious and highly ranked education, with all its resources. There is an air of acceptance about students’ inability to change the circumstances of the pandemic and the effect they have had within the last year, and most students are sympathetic towards the predicament College is in. Hayes recognised that “Trinity made the right move concerning in-person classes despite the results of the survey”. 

This sentiment echoes throughout the student body. “The student survey was done at a different time, even though a large percentage of students were in favour of in-person classes. But it’s really important to listen to the few people who didn’t want to go in because of who they’re living with and their circumstances,” Nunan agreed. “I think that while it’s disappointing I can’t hang out with my friends, it doesn’t make sense to ignore the health crisis at the moment. The only thing that Trinity can really offer is the Library spaces and campus spaces for those who choose to go there and potentially meet up with their friends – but they take that risk. There’s no way that normal classes could have resumed with an expectation of people to attend them.” In spite of this sympathy, the choices College have made within the face of the pandemic are not without its challenges or faults; while Dr. Usherwood recognises “how incredible my colleagues and students are for adapting to such difficult circumstances”, Hayes argues that College “should have kept open the library reading rooms that have now been closed, e.g. 4/5th floor Ussher library.” It is exactly these kinds of challenges, accessibility to the library for postgraduate students being just one, that Dr. Usherwood speaks of.

“I love being in Dublin, but whether that’s worth hundred and hundred of euro a month – it makes you think.” 

Another challenge that faces students ahead of the second semester, put no better than The Clash: should I stay or should I go? Some students like Hayes had the foresight to avoid any dilemmas surrounding rent. Others, however, have found themselves caught, forced to choose between paying Dublin rent and moving back home. “I love being in Dublin, but whether that’s worth hundred and hundred of euro a month – it makes you think,” said Nunan. “My college years are certainly the main part of my life that I see myself in Dublin for. It’s sad to think that half of that time is essentially taken away. Even if I’m in Dublin right now, I’m still staying home most of the time. I don’t get the benefit of living close to town; I haven’t been able to walk home from a gig and think, ‘I don’t need to take a taxi back.’ It’s sad that aspect doesn’t really matter this year.” Many students, however, have chosen to move home rather than try to justify paying the already unaffordable Dublin rent. 

Many students would expect that a new year would start with bright new shiny starts to all things, but this year has started how the last ended: in the age of the coronavirus. Despite these difficulties, though, both students and educators are stepping up to do their utmost to get through these tough times. 

Dearbháil Kent

Dearbháil Kent

Dearbháil Kent is the Comment Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of Latin.