Students adapt to remote learning

Students successfully adapt to the virtual world of online learning

Colchester Institute has been confronted with many challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. The hands-on and practical nature of its courses has seen many vocational areas adapt to face the challenges head on.

In an ever-changing world, performing arts students have not let the uncertainty get in the way of putting on a show after successfully moving their Winter Showcase online for the first time.

Celebrating the work of Dance, Technical Theatre and Digital Media students, the performance was successfully livestreamed to an audience of over 800 people. Still being able to perform to an audience has meant a lot, as Darcie Wells, a second year Dance student explains. “The encouraging atmosphere created from both tutors and fellow classmates is what has got me through these tough times, being able to put on a show has made my whole year.”

Watching online from home was Alison Andreas, Principal and Chief Executive of Colchester Institute who was delighted with the experience. “I thoroughly enjoyed watching the students perform on stage. I wish I could have been there in person to give a standing ovation – but instead they got one from my kitchen!”

The students themselves have been positive about the shift. Marni Cady-Heffer praised the adaptions made to their sessions. “My tutors have developed innovative ideas that can be implemented to each student’s current situation. There is constant support from tutors whether it be our mental health or for academic purposes.” Fellow student Ella Richards also spoke positively about the change “Despite moving our practical course onto zoom, we have all adapted positively to this change. Our sessions are well planned out as our tutors take-into-account the things that would affect us.”

Although remote learning hasn’t been all smooth sailing, with Hazel Banham, course leader for Dance explaining some of the obstacles faced by her students. “Bad wifi signals, animal interruptions, eyestrain and crashing into furniture during zoom classes … we have seen it all. Despite transferring our living rooms into studios, the student’s enthusiasm throughout remote learning has been outstanding. However our next performance must still take place, the show must go on!”

The resilience of staff and students has been paramount to the successful switch to remote learning and has highlighted the amazing work achieved in unprecedented circumstances.

Early Years students Mary Carvalho and Mollie Marshall, explain how their tutors have supported them through the transition to remote learning. “Although we have been learning online, we have constant support when needed. Our tutors have understood how hard it’s been for us to adjust to the covid restrictions.”

Samantha Fennell, Course Tutor in Early Years, has praised the commitment of her students. “I am extremely proud of each individual learner in regards to their motivation and progress during these strange times. We have all worked in partnership to create a positive experience together.”

Virtual learning has dramatically altered the environment students are used to and finding creative solutions to allow teaching to continue has been key.

Hospitality programmes are by their nature very practical-based studies and have had to overcome unique obstacles, with students and staff now cooking and preparing food from home. Ian Perkins, Assistant Head of Hospitality, and Jason Sant, Course Leader in Hospitality and Food Studies have spoken about how lecturers are conducting a number of live cooking and video demonstrations.

Ian outlined some of the adaptations that have been made to continue studying remotely. “In Chefs we run very hands-on courses and have worked hard to create engaging online sessions. These have gone down really well with our learners and this has encouraged them to continue to keep up their skills whilst cooking at home. Students have also received great support from a wide range of industry professionals helping to consistently enrich their studies, including the likes of; Murray Chapman, Craig Sherrington and Chris Galvin.”

With the help of zoom, Jason has been able to recreate many of his demonstrations from home. “I have been sharing different skills, we would have covered in the kitchen, online – including videos like how to break down a chicken and how to achieve different food presentation skills.”

Degree level students at University Centre Colchester have been similarly affected with students at the School of Art setting-up studios at home as soon as tutorials moved online.

Caroline Wright, Tutor of Fine Art explains how her students took part in a practical demonstration of the egg tempera painting technique. “Demonstrating from my studio with all students working in their own homes to create the egg tempera paint was a unique experience.”

Fellow tutor at UCC Eliza Bebb, also participated in the session and was impressed by the experience. “It was brilliant, particularly to see that students were still able to engage with practical activities, even outside of their studio workspace on campus.  The students were very supportive of each other and it is clear that a culture has been created to engender this. I really liked how Caroline was very calm but also very clear in her communication.

COVID-19 has brought many things to a halt, but both staff and students at Colchester Institute and University Centre Colchester continue to embrace the challenges of remote learning and can confidently say they have found a way to keep online learning moving in the right direction.