The New Normal

Season One Episode One: From lecture theatres to laptop screens.

Join journalist Rebecca Borg as she explores how life has changed since the emergence of COVID-19. In today’s episode ‘From lecture theatres to laptop screens’, we talk to three university students about how virtual learning has impacted their university studies and what it means for their future.


[Various news headline extracts]

[Music: ‘Seeing the future’ by Dexter Britain available here]

REBECCA: With universities, tafes and colleges closing across the state, Victorian students studying practical subjects have fallen behind as their classes move to a virtual setting.

Today, you will listen to the stories of three university students who have had their studies compromised due to COVID-19. My name is Rebecca Borg and this is The New Normal.

TIANA: So my name is Tiana, I am in my first year of nursing at ACU in Ballarat.

[Music: ‘Natural Disaster’ by D.A. Dad available here]

REBECCA: After four weeks of face-to-face learning Tiana’s university moved classes online. As a first year, the transition made her anxious because, like most students, learning a practical subject in a home environment wasn’t ideal.

TIANA: My initial thoughts on when the campus said they were moving online was like, how am I going to keep up with the work? Because I know 100 percent I prefer face-to-face learning, as I know it does keep me motivated. So I was really confused as to how it would work all together.

[Sound effect: hospital ward ambience available here]

REBECCA: Tiana turned her home into a makeshift hospital, performing labs on her family members. It was the only way for her to practice her skills without having the appropriate resources.

TIANA: So I was doing a practical on my dad, I was testing his blood pressure. And I hadn’t really learned how to do it as such. And so I was trying and then I squeezed it too tight and I didn’t realise and he was almost dying on me. And I was like ‘oh my gosh stop’ and it was pretty awkward. And then I had to tell him, ‘I’m so sorry, I did that. I’ll go learn again and then I’ll come back’.

REBECCA: And how did he feel about you coming back and doing it again, he would have been maybe scared?

TIANA: Yeah he didn’t let me, he was like ‘you have to be 100 percent sure you know what you’re doing’ and I was like, ‘yeah I know it’s okay’.

REBECCA: Although her dad plays the perfect patient, the interaction with real patients is an element of her course that at-home learning isn’t providing. Despite her optimism, Tiana isn’t that confident that she’ll be prepared for her upcoming placement in October. However, she does have a message for other students who find themselves in the same position as herself.  

TIANA: I think for anyone that’s out there doing online learning, keep positive, keep motivated, we’re all in this together, so that’s the best thing we can do and we’ll eventually get there, we’ll be fine.

[Music: ‘Natural Disaster’ by D.A. Dad available here]

[Sound effect: Teacher impersonation by Lachlan Goddard Callins]

[Sound effect: lecture theatre ambience available here]

REBECCA: Silence is all that is heard at our universities today. And it’s not the peaceful silence you hear in the library either, there’s a sense or eeriness that looms in the air.

For Muzzammil who is a second year student at La Trobe University, he has been fortunate enough to get a taste of on-campus learning in his first year. However, the move to online study has proved difficult as it has raised several questions over how a science-based subject could be taught in a virtual environment.

[Music intro: ‘Night Owl’ by Broke for Free available here]

MUZZAMMIL: I think my initial thoughts were, you know, being happy but also having a little bit of a freak-out. Like, how was this going to happen because I’ve got lab classes and pracs and experiments, with three of my classes being lab-based. My physiology class, my biochemistry class and genetics class – every week we were supposed to be having a lab or a prac. Not being able to do that anymore was disappointing because you look forward to those pracs, I think that’s what makes time go fast.

REBECCA: With lab work a fundamental aspect of any science degree, Muzzammil finds that the cancellation of practical study is taking a toll, both on his learning now and in the future.

MUZZAMMIL: Our pracs being cancelled and our labs, and even our workshops, it’s definitely affected our studies a lot. I feel like I’m not just speaking for me but for the majority of science students because we have these practical classes where they actually give us the bones or the muscles and they show where the contractions are happening or which nerve is affecting which part of the body, so not having that physical touch of it, it does make it harder to learn.

REBECCA: Despite the restrictions and reasoning behind learning remotely, the divide between uni life and home has fused together.

MUZZAMMIL: I felt like uni was the best place for us to get our work done. So we would get the majority of our stuff done at uni and home was more to do our assignments. We feel like because of the weight put on us when having to teach ourselves, study ourselves, has just taken up more time in our lives and speaking realistically, no one wants to study 24/7.

REBECCA: Although virtual study has been difficult for Muzzammil, he is thankful that his university found a way to continue learning despite the circumstances.

MUZZAMMIL: One of my biggest fears were because of this virus, universities would close. I actually felt that maybe they wouldn’t go online, I felt that they would have actually paused until it was safe again. So I am really grateful that online studies were provided but at the same time it has disadvantaged us a lot and I just feel like – appreciating the fact that we still pushed through and made it even though we’ve gone through a difficult time.   

AMELIA: Hi guys! My name is Amelia Asciutto. I am in my first year of graphic design at RMIT.

[Music: ‘Vivaldo’s Spring from the Four Seasons – Allegro’ by Free Tim available here]

AMELIA: My home environment is not your typical uni student environment. I’ve got quite a big family, I’m the oldest of five kids. Three of them are under the age of five years old, and those kids – their personalities are quite active and loud and boisterous, which is awesome when you’re having fun but when you need to have two to three hours of class alone in your room, it can get quite noisy and quite distracting.

REBECCA: Studying at home is difficult with the simple distractions around you, let alone there being toddlers who love to scream and bang on your bedroom door. For Amelia, this is the environment she has to study in, and it sounds a little like this:     

[NATSOT: Amelia’s home environment provided by Amelia Asciutto]

AMELIA: I have the kids banging on the door wanting me to play with them and they don’t understand that Amelia can’t play right now because she’s doing a class for two to three hours, so that’s definitely a challenge.

REBECCA: If we were to visualise a life-drawing class from a typical movie scene you would picture several canvas’s set up on easels with little three-legged stools beside them. There would be a central model up front, whether that be a flower in a vase or a fruit bowl.

In the world of 2020 where COVID-19 exists, the art room is now in Amelia’s bedroom and her model sits within a small window on her laptop screen. From here she crafts her image, but the experience is not the same.   

AMELIA: There was a particular class that we have that was heavily structured around face-to-face conversations like life drawing for example. You need to have a model or object in front of you, you need to be live drawing and the teacher walks around the classroom and goes ‘that line should be here or you need to put more shadow here’, so doing it through a camera is hard, unless you have a really good quality camera, you can’t pick up on the details as you would in person.   

REBECCA: All three students can agree that their universities have done the best that they could to adapt to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic. The common agreement drawn is that nothing could have ever prepared anyone for the difficult times we’ve experienced as well as the times yet to come.  

[Music: ‘Vibrancy’ by Ketsa available here]

REBECCA: While most university students are unfamiliar with what is to happen next, whether that there is a return to university in close sight or if classes will continue to be delivered online next semester, we must continue to thrive through such times.

To all the university students out there, I wish you all the best. Remember that you are not alone. That is all I have for today, until next time, my name is Rebecca Borg and this is The New Normal.   

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