For many prospective students, there's a big question mark hanging over the online learning experience. Find out how Charly, an undergraduate music student, has found things so far.
How did you feel about a new term of blended learning?
I felt really nervous about a new term of blended learning – I had found it difficult last term when everything was online. I really missed interacting with others on my course, and found the whole experience quite isolating.
Normally, we get 24/7 access to the Music Studios but suddenly I had to practice in my bedroom at my parent’s house, with all the distractions that brings.
It was also really difficult to practice. Normally, we get 24/7 access to the Music Studios but suddenly I had to practice in my bedroom at my parent’s house, with all the distractions that brings.
How has your degree’s blended learning style impacted teaching on your course?
I think the teaching on our course has become much more diverse. In lectures, our lecturers have incorporated more online resources and podcasts that wouldn’t be practical to use on campus.
In our ensemble workshops, we’ve had to change how we work quite drastically. We can’t play together, which means that we have to agree on arrangements, then record them remotely and send them to each other. This has meant we’ve had a lot more teaching on the technical aspects of recording, which has been really interesting.
How have you found online learning so far?
I think our lecturers have done a really great job creating resources and materials that are engaging and interesting, so it's not just us sitting watching a video on a laptop.
I think Zoom sessions have been really helpful too, particularly in maintaining the sense of community that's a really big part of my course.
I think Zoom sessions have been really helpful too, particularly in maintaining the sense of community that's a really big part of my course. Although, I have struggled with the amount of screen time, which has gone from not very much to most of the day!
I think lectures work well, but I know we’ve all found seminars tricky – interactions on Zoom feel much more formal than in person, and you're always mindful of speaking over people.
Practical sessions on a Folk and Traditional Music degree are a difficult but very important part of our course. With not being able to play at the same time as others on Zoom, we have had to change the way we interact with each other in an ensemble workshop, Now, we discuss what we’re going to play, record it and then share the recordings – we don’t actually get to hear how it sounds until we’ve finished.
One thing that I've really appreciated through all of this is a new extracurricular activity called Teatime Tunes that our DPD set up, which is an hour each week when our whole degree gathers together to learn a tune from a visiting professional folk musician. This has been a really lovely activity to bring us all together as a community.
One thing that I've really appreciated through all of this is a new extracurricular activity called Teatime Tunes that our DPD set up, which is an hour each week when our whole degree gathers together to learn a tune from a visiting professional folk musician. This has been a really lovely activity to bring us all together as a community, and help new students get to know the rest of us.
Does your course have many in-person sessions?
Officially, we have two hours of workshops in-person each week. However, due to the university going to Tier 3 before the first week of teaching, we haven’t actually had any in-person sessions just yet.
What are online lectures really like?
Online lectures are much better than I thought they would be. I imagined they would just be a long video of the lecture, accompanied by lecture slides (like Recap videos).
Instead, our lecturers have recorded much shorter videos (usually 10-15 minutes long, with four or five videos per lecture), with an accompanying PowerPoint and readings. Often, there are other videos, such as interviews with musicians on YouTube, or podcasts to listen to too.
We’ve also had quizzes on Canvas, which has helped to make sure we engage with the lecture materials.
Do you have much 1 to 1 time with teachers or tutors?
Having had the same fiddle tutor last year, I’ve got to know her and our 1 to 1 sessions have acted as a chance to chat about how things are going.
We’re very lucky as a degree in this respect. I take two performance modules, which means that I get 18 hours a year of tuition on my main instrument, and 12 on my second instrument.
This time has been really beneficial. Having had the same fiddle tutor last year, I’ve got to know her and these 1 to 1 sessions have acted as a chance to chat about how things are going, and see a different face (albeit through the screen).
Most of our lecturers also have plenty of online meeting slots available, if we need to talk to them about anything.
What are the benefits and downsides to blended learning?
I would always prefer in-person teaching. However, I think that there are definitely advantages to blended learning, particularly in terms of accessibility.
But there are a lot of downsides to blended learning too. Normally, on the degree I’m doing, there is a very strong sense of community, and we all spend time together in the common room, in lectures, in seminars, and workshops.
However, there just isn’t the same sense of community with online learning, and I think this must be really hard for first year students, who have only briefly met the rest of us, and haven’t met each other in person before.
Practical sessions, such as ensemble, are also much harder – the process is much longer now, and it can be very frustrating to not be able to play at the same time as others.
Are you using the university facilities to help you?
I’ve been finding the library very useful – it’s so much easier to really concentrate there, especially for doing reading. It’s also been great to be able to access the books held by the library again – a lot of texts I need simply aren’t available online, so this was really tricky before.
I also really like the new bookings system for the library, which ensures it isn’t just a free-for-all. As music students, we also get 6 hours a week in the Music Studios or practice rooms, which I’ve found invaluable for individual practise.
Describe your experience of blended/online learning at Newcastle in 3 words.
Innovative, engaging, technology-heavy.