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Source: University of Waikato

Universities around the world have experienced disruption in the face of the global pandemic. While online learning has been around for a long time, the limitations of social distancing have posed new challenges for tertiary educators around the world.

But the impact on students has been even more profound which is why Dr Dianne Forbes from the University of Waikato is leading a study to investigate how students experienced learning during New Zealand’s nationwide lockdown. Her research, in conjunction with colleagues from four other New Zealand universities, explores university students’ experiences of online learning in the wake of Covid-19.

Dr Forbes says that, while results are still to be analysed, digital equality appears to have been a challenge for some students. This is despite an $87 million Government package that helped get devices and resources to students around New Zealand.

“As educators, we need to remember that having access to technology and knowing how to use it doesn’t necessarily equate to knowing how to be an online learner.”

“Technology and tools are one thing, but there are also several softer skills that students need to be successful online,” says Dr Forbes.

She says that the lockdown was particularly hard on first-year students who were adjusting to university life.

“Many students had only spent three weeks on campus before lockdown and this gave them very little time to adjust to their new academic environment, let alone connect with their peers,” says Dr Forbes.

She says that just like students themselves, their experiences during this challenging time were diverse.

“For some students, there were silver linings like not having to commute and feeling cared for by family at home. Whereas for others with children or for those who were juggling roles as essential workers, it was a more challenging time,” says Dr Forbes.

The SOLE (Student Online Learning Experiences) research team includes Associate Professor Cheryl Brown (University of Canterbury), Dr Dilani Gedera (AUT), Dr Maggie Hartnett (Massey University), and Ashwini Datt (University of Auckland).

For more information visit the project website.