education

I’ve spent two years in online lectures – being hearing-impaired makes it all a lot harder


Connecting directly to my hearing aids ensures the verbal quality of the lecturer’s teaching is always audible (Picture: Noah Keate)

Earlier this month, I entered a lecture theatre for the first time after nearly two years of online learning.

I felt slightly hesitant and daunted because the scale of the rooms is easy to forget when you’ve been away for a while.

But I felt especially nervous because I’m hearing-impaired – with mild to moderate hearing loss – which means I briefly go up to the front at the start of every lecture to give them my microphone. Connecting directly to my hearing aids ensures the verbal quality of the lecturer’s teaching is always audible, whatever the acoustics.

Though this is something I have done since primary school – as an introvert – getting used to that again proved a challenge at first.

But I far prefer in-person learning on my politics course at the University of Warwick – where I’m a final-year student – to online classes because it’s superior from an academic, social and financial perspective. And I’m not alone in thinking that, too.

Earlier this week, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi called on students to challenge universities that are still continuing with online learning. Arguing that learning by Zoom is not the same as being in-person, I can understand why students would be angry.

If you paid for a service and did not receive what you expected, a refund would be given. Why should it be different to students who did not receive the academic experience they were promised?

When I first found out my university course was moving online in March 2020, I felt disappointed and, like the rest of the planet, deeply anxious. The Covid-19 lockdown seemed an inevitability, given how little we knew about the virus, meaning in-person learning would not have been sustainable.  

By that stage, I had only been there for around six months, where I lived on campus – like all freshers. Despite the early start of in-person lectures and once having four back-to-back, the value of lectures as part of building my routine was immense.

However, the pandemic meant I returned home for my final term of first year. This mainly involved completing essays rather than any new teaching, but I still felt immensely alienated from university. Keeping on top of work felt far harder during a pandemic, even though I was lucky enough to have access to the technology required. 

I felt less involved when a discussion was on Teams (Picture: Noah Keate)

Perhaps I was naïve, but I genuinely thought all in-person teaching would return in September 2020 – at the start of my second year. For the autumn term, we enjoyed in-person seminars, while lectures remained online.

Thanks to the third lockdown, 2021 once again meant learning went fully online. Even if it was necessary, this still felt immensely demoralising. 

Online presentations – focusing on the lecture slides – were challenging for us all, but they presented particular difficulties for hearing-impaired people.

Firstly, in most circumstances, I could only hear the voice of lecturers talking into their computer rather than seeing their faces too. This both made it harder to hear every word and was also a vastly different audio quality to the microphone connecting directly to my hearing aids.

While captions were by the lecture slides, these were auto-generated and so, like subtitles on news channels, not always entirely accurate. I generally ignored them and just rewound the lecture where necessary.

Seminars are where university discussions should come to life. The smaller groups, designed to discuss that week’s lecture, are useful for clarifying thoughts and defending arguments.

I felt less involved when a discussion was on Teams because being among others to challenge ideas can never be adequately matched online. In break out rooms for example, where small group discussions took place, people would often keep their microphones muted, especially if the seminar was early in the day. In-person, the awkward silence would have eventually been broken. 

Furthermore, dodgy microphones and a poor internet connection from other speakers worsen the listening experience – especially as someone who is hearing-impaired. That’s if people speak at all. Many – and I’m just as guilty – will spend the entire seminar with their camera off.

Online, when a lecture reaches a section I am not interested in, my mind wanders to Twitter – my favourite social media platform, which always instantaneous guarantee of new tweets and information that can seem more appealing than a dry academic topic. 

So when my university department announced in December last year that we’d be going back into lecture halls for the new year, I felt a renewed spirit for academic life.

If I’m around students frantically typing lecture notes on their laptop keyboard, I am far more likely to do the same

Having been promised in-person contact hours every week, it seemed Warwick were trying hard to get back to normal, something I appreciated for my final year. 

Returning to in-person lectures was an opportunity I grabbed with both hands. In the three in-person lectures I’ve attended so far this term, I felt far more focused and attentive than watching the recorded alternate at home.

Physically being out of my house and in a learning environment has nudged me to pay more attention, rather than just studying alone in an isolated manner. 

It also helps to be watching the lecture with other people. If I’m around students frantically typing lecture notes on their laptop keyboard, I am far more likely to do the same.

Waiting for lectures to start with others can provide a good time for shared moral support, whether it’s chatting about unreliable transport or post-university life. This inevitability is a good stress reliever. 

In-person lectures aren’t perfect for hearing-impaired people like me though. Masks are worn in both my seminars and lectures by everyone. Though I don’t rely wholly on lipreading, this can be jarring.

Masks muffle someone’s voice and make them harder to hear. I think most students and lecturers have realised this – without me even needing to prompt them – and so have deliberately spoken louder to ensure they are heard.

Throughout my time in learning – from secondary school to sixth form and now university – I have found being among others and having a topic explained by someone in the same room is the best way of grasping new information. Just being able to hear someone – the vital first step for learning – is always best done in real, not virtual life. 

That is why the return of campus life – both socially and academically – has been a joy to see after months online.

With in-person lectures back, university is starting to feel like my fresher’s year again, when Covid-19 was but a figment of the imagination.

As I graduate this summer, I hope the spirit of university – celebrating academic freedom, student development and the discovery of new ideas – remains long into the future.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk

Share your views in the comments below.


MORE : ‘Once it sets in it’s hard to shake’: Students are feeling lonelier than ever due to the pandemic


MORE : University continues to back trans-row academic despite her decision to quit


MORE : Unvaccinated student learned to walk again after Covid put her in a coma





READ SOURCE

Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more