Dr Susan Kenyon reveals emerging findings from her research into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on commuter students, and explains how the move to online learning removed some barriers to learning, but how it also presented new barriers, for some students.
Commuter students – those who continue to live at home whilst studying, rather than moving into student accommodation – can often face barriers to learning, because of difficulties arising from their commute. The move to online-only learning in the UK, during the pandemic, removed the commute – so did these barriers to learning disappear?
Removing the commute overcame multiple costs of travel, including financial costs, time, stress. Participants were less tired and the time saved from the commute was put to good use, including extra study, sleep and paid employment. Many participants reported enjoyable aspects of virtual education: studying at their own pace and at a convenient time; growing in confidence because there were more opportunities to contribute; having greater access to lecturers through online applications; and being able to revisit recorded lectures as often as they needed to.
But for many, access to learning wasn’t necessarily more reliable, comfortable or convenient, because of problems with Internet access, computing equipment and lack of appropriate learning space. Many missed the learning community that develops more naturally face to face than online; some found that motivation and time management, skills that they had developed well for offline learning, were difficult to achieve online.
The key finding, however, is that many missed the many well-being benefits of their commute. Participants talked about ‘enforced reflection’ time, relaxing, being in the moment, with no interruptions and no pressure. This mindfulness time, the liminal space between home and work, emerged as the most significant consequence of online learning for commuter students.
These are emerging findings and more research is ongoing. But there are a number of lessons that Universities can take, to build on the positive aspects of lockdown learning and work to mitigate the negative aspects, during both face to face and online teaching.
- Consider how we might capture some of the well-being aspects of the commute, to benefit all of our students.
- Build a strong learning community, paying attention to relationships for learning.
- Consider different ways to enable students to contribute during class, to build confidence, building on the benefits of the ‘chat’ function in online applications.
- Continue to provide recordings of teaching, in advance of face to face teaching, if possible.
- Offer virtual appointments with teaching staff during office hours, allowing students on and off campus to maintain their access to information, advice and support.
In the Politics and IR team here at Christ Church, we are committed to working with our students to ensure that we learn positive lessons from the pandemic, adapting our learning and teaching to meet the varied needs of our students. We will be taking these lessons on board in our teaching in the new academic year.
It has long been hypothesised that virtual mobility – access to opportunities, services, social networks and other goods, via the Internet – could reduce aspects of social exclusion, including education-related exclusion. To learn more about this and other impacts of transport, students can take our Level 5 module ‘Transport, Politics and Society’.
Dr Susan Kenyon, Principal Lecturer in Politics, revealed emerging findings from her research into the impact of the Covid pandemic on commuter students, at this year’s Medway Festival of Learning and Teaching.