‘Disappointing’ post-pandemic lectures fail to entice students

Students want to be on campus but they still need a reason to go there, summit hears

September 27, 2023
Evelyn Welch and Tamara Mason at the World Academic Summit
Source: Michael Amendolia/University of Sydney
Evelyn Welch and Tamara Mason at the World Academic Summit

“Recycled” slide decks, many of them created during or even before the pandemic, have been blamed for students’ disengagement from campus.

Times Higher Education’s World Academic Summit heard that on-campus lectures were not significantly different from those delivered over Zoom at the height of lockdowns. Tamara Mason, an aerospace engineering student at the University of Sydney, said she had been “severely disappointed” with the content of lectures after on-campus classes resumed after the pandemic.

“During Covid times, lecturers were usually…reading off slide decks,” Ms Mason told the summit. “Ever since coming back in person, I’ve found that those slide decks haven’t changed.

“We want to come to university, but we need to be given a reason to do so. We want that social contact. We want our lecturers to be engaged with us, to work through problems with us, to give us a reason to talk to each other.”

Ms Mason could not say whether students in other faculties or institutions had experienced similar disappointment. But she suspected that students’ low expectations were at least part of the reason that academics had found themselves lecturing to empty halls.

She said most of her counterparts considered lectures “optional” unless they included quizzes carrying assessment points. Three years into her degree, she had not met some of her classmates until such quizzes were conducted.

Evelyn Welch, vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, said students came to campus to mix with “each other” rather than their lecturers.

“The real challenge for us…is how to create a collective experience that is individualised without being atomised,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve found the perfect solution, but certainly being able to engage in person – great friendship, deep friendship – is something that will never disappear as a return on investment.”

Professor Welch said staff experience was arguably a bigger challenge for universities than student experience.

“Students absolutely want to be together. They want to be on campus. They want a campus experience. Staff don’t necessarily want to be on campus. But they do want their single individual office. Academics will fight over funding but will kill over space.”

Feridun Hamdullahpur, former president of the University of Waterloo, said students from Canada to Saudi Arabia and his native Turkey all wanted to rub shoulders with each other. “Students are very vocally requesting physical presence on campus – not necessarily just in classrooms, but on-campus experience,” he told the summit.

Professor Hamdullahpur said technology would remain an important part of meeting students’ needs. He said student experience was often conceived as a black-and-white choice between on-campus and online, but “there are some really beautiful colours in between”.

Raghunathan Rengaswamy, dean of global engagement at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, cautioned that technological responses might not suit every student – particularly those from India or Africa who lacked internet access or shared one-bedroom houses with multiple siblings.

“Many of the students really exhorted us, to say: ‘Please bring us back to campus – that’s the one place we can work.’”


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Reader's comments (1)

If students want me to give lectures that are substantially different from those 4 years ago, then they need to convince the university to give me more than 2 hours per lecture to prepare.