Learning in Lockdown?

By Gabriel CallaghanFourth Year Physics.

Learning is certainly not in lockdown. We can’t go out and socialise, but now that many have been furloughed from work and the university has applied a no-detriment policy to our exams, there’s plenty of time to acquire new skills. We’re also learning a lot about future working practices. But of course, this is a tragic situation which I don’t intend to trivialise: one life lost is one too many.

Lockdown is boring, we’re out of the lab and I’ve finished my thesis. This is why I have set up the ‘learn in lockdown’ scheme where John’s students can teach a skill to their peers. I’m teaching computer programming for beginners. Others are teaching knitting, Dutch and Mandarin.

We’re also learning a lot about future working practices.

People always say they want to learn something new, so now is an ideal opportunity. Online, people can learn languages, instruments, new skills for their careers… we’re certainly taking the words of Stuart Corbridge (Durham University Vice-Chancellor and Warden) seriously and are not letting our degrees get in the way of our education.

With A-Levels cancelled, sixth-formers can move away from the verbose curriculum and learn interesting aspects of their subject, tutored by university students. For instance, I’m teaching university skills that I struggled with as a fresher that will be useful, such as how to tackle degree level problems and how to program. We work through the thought process of degree level Classical Mechanics problems, also discussing the real aspects of Physics, not just Newton’s Second Law. This is the perfect opportunity for enrichment.

However, working practices are the most significant learning opportunity provoked by COVID-19. Working from home is the new norm and people are learning to use technology in new ways. As students, we have laptops and are mostly unaffected because of the integration of our studies with technology. But many companies have only just issued staff with laptops.

I have set up the ‘learn in lockdown’ scheme where John’s students can teach a skill to their peers.

We’re also learning about the future of work. Instead of being unnecessarily imprisoned in an office for eight hours a day, people can work as they wish and are not going to be stuck in traffic to get to the office for 9am, which wastes time and money.

Now, we have proof that meetings can be held electronically, in which I find that people are more efficient. This also has positive environmental impacts if workers commute less, potentially leading to the regeneration of rural areas. I would be perfectly content living in the middle of nowhere rather than a city.

During this pandemic, bold management styles are the most successful. Businesses have had to adapt because conventional approaches do not work at the moment. Some managers are simply incompetent and susceptible to bureaucracy, and they have been found out.

However, we are now discovering our nation’s unsung heroes. Genuine innovation such as the manufacture of ventilators by Dyson has undoubtedly saved the day. Businesses repurposing their manufacturing equipment to make PPE have shown spirit.

Innovation doesn’t even have to be on this level. For instance, church services have moved online to combat loneliness. This innovation will get us through COVID-19.

I’m teaching computer programming for beginners.

We’re also learning about the ‘key workers’, previously treated abysmally. Now, they’re national heroes in the war against coronavirus: the delivery driver on a twelve-hour shift distributing computers and lab supplies that we need to destroy coronavirus, the catering staff cooking food so we have more time to study and acquire the skills to get us out of this mess, the cleaners tidying our workplaces so we can get on with scientific research, and the carers who are maltreated but are literally keeping people alive.

And finally, we have seen both sides of humanity, from the people risking their lives to the disgusting criminals who cough on paramedics. While some are preying on the vulnerable by price gouging, others are exhibiting generosity, delivering food to their neighbours and volunteering for the NHS. Most people in Britain aren’t going to be helping on the frontline. But we all have a part to play. The science is very clear: we will save around 511,000 lives in this country by following the measures, and perhaps even more than that now we’re on lockdown. And that’s from the Imperial paper[i].

[i] https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-Europe-estimates-and-NPI-impact-30-03-2020.pdf

Want to share your thoughts? We actively encourage discussion and debate and would love to hear your opinion! If you’d like to write a full response, or if you have any thoughts on this article that you would like to share with us, please comment below or email johns.chronicle@durham.ac.uk.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed on this site are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the editorial board.

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