Online tutorials – better than we expected?

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The prospect of online tutorials initially strikes dread into many of our hearts. What if I get trapped alone in a video call with my tutor? How on earth do we break the painful silences? There is a distance that comes with speaking to someone via a camera rather than in person, and it is harder to gauge people’s thoughts when you can’t read their body language.

Initial impressions suggest video-call tutorials would be disastrous and heavily diminish learning. That is certainly what I had expected before term started. However, having had 4 online tutorials already, I have found that they weren’t so awful, and there are some unexpected benefits.

Doing my tutorials from home has actually allowed me to put things into perspective. It makes you realise work isn’t everything and tutorials are only a tiny part of your day.

I thought having to work and do tutorials outside of the Oxford bubble would be overwhelming. In Oxford, our lives revolve around academic work, and getting through the workload is a bit more manageable when you have the perfect environment for it. However, the Oxford bubble, although motivating, produces an underlying level of stress permeating everything we do. Doing my tutorials from home has actually allowed me to put things into perspective. It makes you realise work isn’t everything and tutorials are only a tiny part of your day.

Despite that, having tutorials online detract from the learning experience. Conversations can be somewhat stilted, which is a barrier to maximally benefiting from them. In person tutorials facilitate discussion of more random and varied thoughts, and I feel more comfortable suggesting ideas I’m not 100% confident about. There’s a psychological barrier to that in online tutorials. Having to turn the mic off and subsequently make it clear you want to speak seems to increase the pressure: whether your idea is good seems a bigger deal. This is a shame because it diminishes the scope for the interesting and insightful discussions that make tutorials so enjoyable.

Online tutorials are better than no tutorials at all and are a decent solution in the context of what the world is facing right now.

As a linguist, I was also worried about my oral class. I thought it would be awkward – that without non-verbal cues I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on. Luckily it worked well this week. Unfortunately, this seems to be dependent on tutor and language, as I have heard from other friends that their oral classes have been hard to conduct. This exposes the wider problem of variation among tutors, subjects and colleges. Although my tutors have been really understanding about the situation, and my experience of online tutorials has, so far, been relatively positive, I am under no illusion that this isn’t the same for everyone.

Online tutorials are better than no tutorials at all and are a decent solution in the context of what the world is facing right now. However, remote learning can be isolating and stressful, and it is important that we check up on friends, so they know they are not alone. While the University attempts to build a digital teaching system, we must attempt to recreate vital support systems from home.

Image Credit: Mohamed Hassan

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