18 Jul   Opinion

Has technology made university too impersonal?

by Ria Walia

I was sitting in a lecture the other day where 20 people were present out of a 300 student cohort, and I thought to myself: something is very wrong with the education system today.

I am a first year undergraduate Mathematics student. My fondness for the subject began in primary school. Working with numbers came with ease to me and this followed through till sixth form. It was during my A-levels that I knew that this is what I wanted to pursue at higher education. In hindsight, my studies in year 12 and 13 were the most enjoyable. This was due to several factors. All my resources were readily available, provided by my school, including past papers, textbooks and mark schemes. I was able to have one-to-one interactions with my tutors and, in class, I was able to ask questions as the lesson was being taught. This interaction and collaboration amongst my classmates and teachers motivated me to do well in my A-levels.

Lecturer's throwing learning material at students

My preconception of studying at university diminished in the first week. At university, educational material is thrown at you, with no context - if you are lucky, it’s mentioned quickly at the end of a slide. This method of presenting new knowledge is impersonal and means a lower rate of comprehension. All our resources are sent to us through a common online portal. However, we are bombarded with several external resources such as pdf’s on dropbox and scanned lecture notes from tutors. By the end of the week I have dozens of files downloaded, with many duplicates, cluttering my computer. Not only am I left wasting time organising, this also distracts me from ultimately grasping the context. For example, I find watching YouTube videos on various topics we brush over in my lectures incredibly insightful. It can be distracting when writing notes on a separate programme, such as Evernote, and opening up a browser to view the video on - not to forget retrieving the lecture notes from dropbox. This long list of windows not only clutter my laptop screen but my head too!

Too many learning tools - a student's worst nightmare

I enjoyed Mathematics thoroughly at A-level because of the interaction I was able to have with my peers and tutors. The absence of interaction and collaboration at university affected not only my admiration for the subject but my performance too. I quickly understood why that was. With 300 people enrolled on my course, all wanting to ask our lecturers several questions, there weren’t many opportunities to interact with the eight different professors for all our modules. This led to my university year group creating a humongous group chat on WhatsApp where we all use it to ask one another questions and share notes. Whilst this is an overlooked source of help, it can be a nuisance squinting your eyes to view the shared notes on your phone screen. In addition, you usually find at least 99% of your year group cannot write legible notes. There are scientific languages such as LaTeX but there is no easy package for students to share LaTeX maths equations and that is why I never got involved. Now, if it were possible to share our notes in a more succinct way this source of knowledge would prove even more useful - exploiting the value of collaborative notes.

Demotivated students without any feedback or determination

These issues of fragmented learning and collaboration then start to affect my motivation, so I don’t perform as well as I could. Just as I mentioned at the beginning, lecture theatres are empty and the university drop out rate is dangerously high. My friend was not the type to attend lectures everyday as her commute into university was over an hour. With the availability to watch the lectures online she had no need to come in. I noticed her attendance decreased gradually as the months went by although I didn’t think much of it as I knew her reasons for not physically coming in. One day, I called to ask her about an Economics exam we had the next day when she chose to broke the news to me. She had decided weeks ago to drop out because she had no motivation to carry on. This was due to the lack of feedback and collaboration she received throughout her limited time at university which ultimately informed her decision.

Motivated students with constant feedback and determination

Nevertheless, with technology at our fingertips it would be naive to say that we cannot achieve the unimaginable. By solving these logistical hiccups I believe this can encourage a better virtual working space, improving productivity and lowering procrastination. This will have a huge impact on my motivation to do better and achieve higher in my degree.

My name is Ria and I am currently interning for Supernotes which aims to address these widespread problems of students. Supernotes was recommended to me by my university’s Entrepreneurship Institute. I feel passionate about their mission to de-clutter the general learning experience and making studying accessible to all. This is what led to me working for the team! The launch of Supernotes in September 2018 will equip me with the perfect tools I need to achieve that 1st in the commencing academic year!