As the university year draws to an end, some of my friends who teach at universities have been reflecting sadly on the experience of doing their job online for an entire year. Many of them did all their teaching without ever meeting their students in person. Everything was done by Zoom and the like. Poor teachers, poor students!
It made me think about what would have happened if the pandemic had struck during my (pre-internet) university days. If we had all been sent home for lockdown, that would have been the end of our course of study. The only way the university could have contacted us would have been by post, and they were not geared up to send out work by post, let alone establish efficient systems of dialogue and feedback.
And of course, students wouldn’t have been able to keep in touch with one another. In university holidays there was ‘radio silence’ from my fellow students, with the exception of the occasional handwritten letter, always an exciting event. I was quite a keen letter-writer myself, but even the most ardent correspondents couldn’t turn around a letter and a reply in less than about four days. It was considered over-eager to pounce on a reply and reply to it. Did you have nothing better to do? Self-respect demanded a polite interval before initiating the next chapter in the correspondence. So for most of the time I had no idea what my fellow students were up to when we were not together on campus.
One year there was a postal strike. During that strike I was completely cut off from friends. Strange to relate, we didn’t use the phone for chatting, not even during a postal strike. The one phone in our house was in the hallway where every conversation could be overheard, and in any case we were reminded to keep calls short because of the expense.
Today’s electronic communication, whatever its negative points, has made it possible for people to keep teaching/studying and supporting one another during the pandemic. It’s been a stressful year for students, of course it has, but when I stop to think about how we would have coped in my student days, I realise how much today’s communication possibilities have empowered us in our lockdown isolation.