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The good, the bad, and the uncertain: University students describe their lockdown experience

Some courses moved swiftly online but others stalled for weeks with little communication


03 July 2020 07:45 PM


Elisabet Gonzalez Pellicer

On March 12, it was announced that all face-to-face activities at universities would be suspended from the following day. Some students would not receive news of how some subjects would continue until three weeks later.

Tania Núñez, Microbiology Student at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona explained that from one particular teacher, they heard nothing. "We delivered a task we already had pending before all this happened, and that's all. We have not continued with the content of the subject."

Along the same lines, Anna Gonzalez, first-year philosophy student at Universitat de Barcelona, claims that although some teachers immediately sent them an email explaining how the course would be run, others did not give them any guidelines until three weeks had passed. "I have the feeling that the university has left the management of the crisis in the hands of the teachers, and that each one has applied their own criteria," she says.

Josep Macià, UB philosophy professor confirms that: "They took some time to give us concrete indications. I'm not sure, but I think that the first email that we had received with concrete indications was on April 8." That email contained information, orientation and resources for non-face-to-face teaching.

Other students, however, were satisfied with the speed with which their university responded to the suspension of in-person classes. "On Thursday they told us that the face-to-face lectures were suspended, and the next Monday we were already taking classes," explains Enric Sasselli, Telematic Engineering Student at La Salle Universitat Ramon Llull.

But in contrast, they complain about the uncertainty that there has been regarding the evaluation. "We had no idea if we would have final exams or not," explains Sasselli.

Laia Suñé, Speech Therapy Student at Blanquerna Universitat Ramon Llull, also agrees: "We've had late notice of what the format of the exams would be. We were originally told that they would be face-to-face. Finally, two weeks before the exams, they told us they would be online," she says.

Since April 16, universities have had advice from the Inter-University Council of Catalonia specifying different evaluation methods that can be adopted, but some of these methods could collide with existing legislation on the protection of personal data, causing a problem that had to be solved. Xavier Gil, Rector of the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya recognizes that such problems delayed a lot of decision making, "potentially causing concern among students.”

On the other hand, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra was forced to decide the evaluation methodology rapidly, because when universities were closed, the examination period was already near. UPF Rector Jaume Casals explains, "methodologies that could be used were discussed with the deans of the various faculties, and professors received documents with guidelines."

The methodology used for evaluation and for the lectures during the Covid-19 crisis has been very diverse, not only between universities, but also between subjects within the same university.

Regarding the evaluation, there have been test type exams or written exams through Moodle questionnaires, oral exams via video call, and exercises or tasks instead of exams, etc. Various ways of making sure students do not copy have been employed: from asking them to turn on the computer camera while they are taking the exam, to limiting response times so they don't have time to look up the answers.

With regard to the lectures, some universities like the URL, the UIC or the Universitat Abat Oliva, opted for delivering the most of the lessons by video call, and others, like UB, UAB or UPF, although they also give some classes by video call, they have preferred to bet more on other, non-real-time, methods, like videos, texts, or tasks on Moodle.

In any case, the move from face-to-face to online lessons has greatly strengthened the use of technology, which has highlighted the digital divide. The universities have combated this problem by offering scholarships in order to bridge this gap. Lluís Baulenas, General Secretary of the Interuniversity Council of Catalonia, says that he believes that all requests have been answered, and adds "generally everyone has had a good predisposition in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis."

"Student representatives, especially, have done a lot of work. They have received a lot of complaints from students, they have conveyed to the universities and they have received a positive response," Baulenas says. In that sense, he concludes that while it is true that student representatives said at the beginning that there were many uncertainties, they now consider that the universities have responded well. 

Plans for next year involve a hybrid model of sorts: the first part of the year, at least, will have limited on-campus activity while the rest of the year could have more in-person lessons.


  • A student checking out his university's virtual campus (by Blanca Blay)

  • A student checking out his university's virtual campus (by Blanca Blay)