After a learning curveball, first-year uni students slowly settle into campus life

Jess McCreadie is a first-year university student who has still not been inside a lecture theatre.

Currently attending the University of Melbourne campus only for her science degree’s tutorials, she is looking forward to more face-to-face teaching returning over the course of the year.

First-year Melbourne University student Jess McCreadie is looking forward to more learning on campus.Credit:Eddie Jim

“Online learning just doesn’t really work for me; I struggle with motivation,” Ms McCreadie said. “I love the on-campus hours. When I have lectures on campus that’ll be exciting.”

For La Trobe University first-year student Georgia Ibrom, it feels like she is living “somewhat of a university experience”.

Ms Ibrom moved from Wodonga to Melbourne this year to study humanities and is living in student accommodation with 15 others in Bundoora.

But half of her university subjects are online and she longs for more face-to-face lessons.

“A lot of people have struggled with remote learning,” she said. “It reminds you of your last year of school. I missed out on an 18th, graduation, athletics carnivals, swimming carnivals, even clubbing.”

First-year La Trobe uni student Georgia Ibrom. Credit:Eddie Jim

First-year university students are among the ranks of vulnerable young Victorians, according to clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller, after their final year of secondary school and rites of passage were upended by COVID-19.

The class of 2020 endured almost two terms of remote learning as Victoria battled first and second waves of coronavirus infections.

Their first taste of university is different, too, with many denied the first-year campus experience.

Despite Victoria’s success in quashing infections this year, many new university students have had more online lessons than they wanted, as universities manage COVID-19 density requirements and teach students who are unable to return to campus, including the huge numbers offshore.

La Trobe University said about 70 per cent of its domestically offered coursework subjects and classes were currently available on campus and that could increase to more than 80 per cent in semester two.

“All lectures currently remain online because of COVID-safety restrictions. However, we are looking at smaller-sized lectures being available on campus in semester two, as long as it is safe to do so,” a university spokesperson said.

“We will continue to offer subjects online for those students unable to attend our campuses, such as international students.”

Monash University said it expects lectures to be in-person in semester two, while the University of Melbourne is also aiming for a full return to on-campus teaching in the second half of the year.

Deakin University also started semester one study online and will move to more in-person classes throughout the year. It ran an online orientation week, similar to the virtual open day for prospective students it developed in 2020.

An RMIT spokesperson said the university was “actively reviewing our arrangements for semester two to have even more students studying on campus and expect to share more details with students and the RMIT University student union in coming weeks.”

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge recently urged universities to bring all local students back on campus.

Anika Luna has achieved her goal of studying media and communications at RMIT but is finding it hard to stay motivated doing online-only study.

Anika Luna says online-only learning lacks a sense of interaction with others.Credit:Eddie Jim

“When you’re studying online, you’re not getting that interaction with people. You’re still doing things but it’s not in its truest form, so I think you can feel a bit lost,” she said.

“When you come out of school and go to uni, it’s just a massive change. I think everyone’s trying to adjust to this new way of life.”

Not all students are longing to set foot on campus.

Wai Yan Moe had intended to study a bachelor of aviation at RMIT or Swinburne, but after last year’s school shutdowns he decided to enrol at CQUniversity in Queensland. The theory is online but the flight training is at Moorabbin Airport.

First-year uni student Wai Yan Moe is enjoying remote studies.Credit:Justin McManus

“I would not have considered doing a course remotely had I not gone through 2020,” the 18-year-old said.

He plans to move to Queensland for the final part of the course, but for now is happy studying in Melbourne with old friends.

“I don’t want to move away from family and friends so being able to do it online, together with friends from home, that ties it all nicely,” he said.

He said while he was envious of friends enjoying “the campus lifestyle” and face-to-face lessons, those friends would also like the convenience of logging on five minutes before class.

”There are positives and drawbacks on both sides.”

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