Remote Teaching Case Studies: Naomi Abayasekara, School of Classics

Thursday 11 June 2020

This week in our series on remote teaching and learning we are interviewing third year undergraduate Naomi Abayasekara from the School of Classics. Naomi was already familiar with standard online resources for reading articles and helping with translation before teaching moved online at St Andrews, but having lectures and tutorials online was a new experience for her (as it was for most students and many staff too). From this perspective of an undergraduate, she offers us some interesting insights about how things went during the transition to online teaching. Naomi was impressed by how quickly lecturers adapted to the new circumstances and says that clear and frequent communication from members of staff at the School of Classics reassured her and meant that she always knew how things would work. She also tells us that she still prefers reading actual physical books and that she misses the chance encounters and exchanges that one has on campus in St Andrews itself. What’s more, she thinks that working at home is not as easy as some people might imagine it to be. While she was lucky to have access to study space and a desk, she thinks that there are still more distractions at home than at the Library; and having more than one family member working at home means that it is harder to concentrate, especially when you can hear your dad in online meetings next door!

Tell us about your role at the University of St Andrews.

I’m a third year Classics student.

How much had you integrated the use of technology into your study habits before the Covid-19 outbreak? What did you use until now?

To a very limited extent! I mainly used technology to read articles online (although where it was available, I always preferred to read the physical copy from the library), and I used online tools for translation help (such as Perseus) but again, I also combined this with physical copies of the text and grammar books.

What were your first thoughts when you heard that St Andrews teaching, learning, and study was switching online?

It wasn’t a surprise, given that many other universities were doing the same thing. I was apprehensive about how it would work, but was reassured by frequent communication both from the University and from my lecturers.

How do you manage the process of learning and studying online?

It was alright, given that everyone was in the same boat and that it was such a strange time for everyone. Luckily, I already had access to a desk and study space at home, though it was difficult at times because my dad was also trying to work from home so it was sometimes hard to concentrate when I could hear him in meetings all day!

Did the process of switching online make you think differently about the way you approach your study? Did you make any changes to your study habits?

Not really, I know that I still prefer to work without using my laptop too much and I don’t like working at home as there are frequent distractions. Given the choice, I would definitely prefer to study in the silence of a physical library using physical resources, but in the circumstances it worked ok.

In general, how has your student experience of learning and studying online been?

It has been largely very positive, I have felt well-supported by the department, and there has been frequent communication by different members of staff at each stage of the process, so we all know exactly how things are going to work. However, obviously I would much prefer face-to-face learning! I miss the chance encounters in the Library or in the department and going for coffee with people to talk about what we’re doing.

How has your experience of lectures, seminars, and tutorials (if you have them) been?

They have been pretty good, given how quickly everyone had to adapt to the situation. I had weekly live seminars in both my modules on Teams, which was nice to provide structure and also to check in with everyone weekly. However, I think that at times it felt more like a lecture than a whole class discussion, as it was difficult with the online format to include everyone in the dialogue. There were definitely a lot of people who got lost or were ignored in the online classes and that didn’t happen as much in face-to-face tutorials.

You are an undergraduate at the School of Classics. Which technologies or online resources have you found especially practically useful for studying Classics in particular?

I like Perseus for translation help, Loeb online for texts, and all the usual forums for access to scholarship online (eg. Oxford University Press Online, JSTOR etc.)

What has been your experience of having undergraduate supervision online been?

It was largely positive but it did feel a shame that a lot of the discussion element that I enjoy so much about face-to-face teaching got lost when online. I think everyone understood this because we were all still getting used to the new style of learning, and the lecturers were very quick to adapt considering the circumstances. However, if online teaching were to continue next year (presumably without the safety-net policies of S-coding (a process whereby allowances can be made for special circumstances), I think the students would expect a lot more in order to ensure that our learning experience isn’t compromised through being online.

What one piece of advice would you give someone based on your own student experience of learning and studying online?

Do as much preparation as possible so that you can really get the most out of the online session. Don’t be afraid to speak up in the online classes, even if it might feel more difficult to do so online, to make sure that your voice is heard. Probably everyone else is thinking the same thing anyway, but are just too afraid to say! Try to join in with discussion. Also, don’t be afraid to approach lecturers for help and have one-to-one Skype calls and so on, just as you would normally attend an office hour. They are still there to help, and it is important to still have real contact with people in the department as much as possible!

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

No; that’s all.

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