I was studying during the morning of March 12th, 2020, six weeks after my second semester commenced when the news broke that colleges would be shut temporarily owing to the spread of COVID-19 in Ireland.
I was scared but not surprised. Of course, I had been following the news and a few days before that, two of our lecturers had warned us of the possibility of colleges transitioning to online learning. This had left me nervous and disconcerted because at that point I still had practical classes in some modules, lots of assignments including presentations and most importantly, my dissertation.
Prior to the announcement I always thought of ‘’online learning’’ as fancy and cool.
However, having thought about the potential challenge of producing a radio documentary (an important component of my dissertation), without access to the studio or my supervisor, online learning was far from being fancy or cool.
There were just a lot of uncertainties. I kept asking questions like "How will I edit?" "How will all my practical based assessments be done?" "Will I even graduate this year?’’ Thankfully, I didn’t have any more exams, but I worried for my friends who did.
The shutting down of colleges as announced by government was for an initial period of three weeks but it later became for the full academic year which was followed by strict lockdown rules in Ireland.
Study from home
So, only a few weeks into a new semester, I suddenly found myself learning remotely and resigned to the fact that I would be spending the rest of the academic year in front of a laptop screen.
Neither staff (when they were planning for the academic year) nor students (when they were starting the new year) saw this coming.
Everything seemed complicated but Griffith College made the impossible possible. The speed at which the College transitioned to remote lecturing was impressive.
The College got all students to download Zoom and lectures were held as normal. Some lecturers uploaded recorded lectures on the College’s portal for students to watch back. This was mostly beneficial to those who had left Ireland to be with their families and were operating in a different time zone.
The new reality put a strain on lecturers as it did for students, but we all had to adjust.
Many lecturers had to be ingenious in the ways they delivered lectures and assessed students.
Opportunity to explore
Some practical assignments that were affected were changed or the requirements tweaked. For example, in my photojournalism module we were supposed to use personal cameras or rent from the College to create a photographic project. Due to the peculiar situation, we were instead allowed to use our mobile phones. Although I lost the opportunity to learn more technicalities in using a digital camera, this gave me the opportunity to explore my mobile camera more and learn new tricks.
Also, one format of assessment I thought might not be possible with distance learning was presentations. But we did that successfully using the ‘share screen’ option on Zoom. I even realised how much less nervous I became and was thrilled that I got good scores in the assessments.
Students and lecturers did stumble a few times on Zoom but we got used to it over time. Despite the occasional technical glitches, as students we knew online learning was the only way to complete the semester and Griffith offered all the support required. There was no gap in learning. The College was so determined to finish the rest of the academic year and they did.
There is a difference between learning from home in normal times and learning from home during a lockdown. There were a whole lot of psychological implications; I could no longer do extracurricular activities with the Students' Union, I couldn’t go anywhere else to unwind, I couldn’t hang out with friends, I was just confined to the house.
During those distressing times, Griffith College’s counselling team continually provided support for students wherever they were in the world.
I did miss in-person teaching. Nothing will ever beat that. However, if virtual learning would continue next term, I believe the system can be improved.
Looking back, with all the crazy things that has happened this year, I’m just grateful to be alive and absolutely delighted to have completed my dissertation.
I will remember Griffith College for many things. What I will mostly remember it for is not just what they did during the trying periods but how they did what they did within the shortest possible time, which ensured the seamless completion of the academic year.
For new students, there might be slight changes to the way the College normally operates, I want to assure you that it's still possible to have a good experience. Whatever the changes are, like I found out myself, you’ll never know how much you can achieve until your back is against the wall.
About the author
Joseph Okoh is a postgraduate student on the MA Journalism and Media Communications programme, who is passionate about immigrant’s experiences/migration integration. In June 2020, he started an online interview series called Immigrants’ Stories.