Lockdown and university


This post was originally published on The Bath Magazine website: https://thebathmagazine.co.uk/learning-in-lockdown/

After weeks of strikes, I was finally about to start having lectures again when Coronavirus hit. Overnight everything changed. Gone were the bus rides to Corsham Court, gone was catching up over coffee in the café and gone was writing in the library. 

Most people on my Creative Writing Masters at Bath Spa University don’t live in Bath. Instead, they commute from all over the country, which means I probably won’t see any of them until I graduate in the winter. It’s a big change from the group writing sessions and pub trips I had envisaged for the rest of term. But, it’s easy to think and dwell on all the things I’m missing, when really I am a lot luckier than most students. I don’t have exams, and my deadlines haven’t changed. I’m not missing a well-earned graduation or all the fun that comes after finishing exams in undergrad. My MA runs over the summer, so I while I’m gutted about the cancellation of Glastonbury, I was expecting to spend most of July and August inside anyway.  

Surprisingly, I don’t really mind being online. I do miss the chatty coffee breaks and saying ‘hi’ to peacocks on my way to workshops, and my internet connection leaves a lot to be desired. But, so far the transition has gone smoothly, people have learnt to use the chat function, mute their microphones and we have even managed a quick virtual coffee break. It is tiring to spend three hours glued to a screen, so my tutors have introduced more frequent five-minute breaks which allow us to stretch our legs and grab a quick cup of tea. Luckily my tutors, on the whole, have been really good with the move to virtual learning. They’ve been sending regular emails giving advice on how to block out distractions, and offering five minute chats whenever we need them. These mini motivation messages have helped grow a support network across the MA, which is great to be part of.

As it is Creative Writing, it is pretty easy to do in distance learning, as the bulk of is spent on my own at my desk anyway, so no change there. My main concern is that I have to keep my bedroom as tidy as possible and angle the computer away from my ‘floordrobe’. One of my tutors even suggest we each do a room tour, but as we’re all writers, I’m a little concerned my messy room might make its way into someone’s novel as a symbol for millennial laziness. Being online means an insight into everyone’s lives that you didn’t get sitting around a table.  Teeming bookcases, spouses popping in, and an introduction to cats, chihuahuas, children and Chinese ornaments – some of these show and tells are a lot more interesting than others. 

Although I now technically have more time than ever to get on with university work, that isn’t quite going to plan. Everyone is in the house again, all four of us actually living together for longer than a few weeks for the first time in five years. This means every time you leave your room, or, god forbid, try and work downstairs, you get caught in conversation. You wanted a quick cup of coffee and a scroll on Instagram, but suddenly you’re helping transfer tadpoles from one pond to another or helping your parents set up a Zoom call. You might be finally getting your teeth into some work when someone pops in with the newest lockdown meme, or Tiktok, or query about proofreading an email. And if it’s not your family, then it’s every form of social media out there. My phone has honestly never felt more popular. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Houseparty, Zoom. Friends who normally have busy lives and hectic jobs suddenly find themselves stuck at home and with a lot more free time – which is great for me, but less great for my degree. 

So, I better tidy that floordrobe, mute my phone and get ready for the next three-hour session!

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