Pandemic Pedagogy: a student perspective 2

By Sophie Moennich (University of Roehampton)


Now over a year since the first lockdown, many history students have adapted to the challenges of online learning. But levels of engagement with online learning has seen wide variation, especially as time has gone on. Some lecturers have used new approaches to help history students stay engaged, something increasingly helpful as time has gone past. Jamboard, breakout rooms and other approaches have helped for history students to share their ideas and stay engaged.

When I asked other history students about their experiences, a common reply was that pre-recorded lectures have been really useful. One student commented that they ‘engaged even better than in person as there was no distraction and I could re-watch and make proper notes’. Pre-recorded lectures have allowed students a sense of control over their time, and responsibility to ensure that they have watched them before the seminar. They are even more important for international students who may be in a different time zone. Because lectures are more accessible, students are more able to engage throughout the seminar, and have a stronger understanding of the topic. Another student confirmed that ‘lecturers make sure everything is electronically available, so I have access to more than last year, especially e-books.’ This implies that for many history students, learning resources have been largely unaffected by online leaning.

Screenshot showing a Jamboard discussion on shellshock, with post-it notes highlighting key themes linked to the topic and to images of 'shell shocked' patients
Screenshot of a Jamboard discussion on shell shock

Breakout rooms and websites such as Jamboard have stood out to me as one of the most important developments. Breakout rooms have allowed students to share their ideas, and establish a sense of involvement for students who may prefer to share their ideas with a smaller group of people. This has helped students with different confidence levels, and also ensured that they stay engaged with their course. Additionally, Jamboard has allowed students to share their ideas on a virtual post-it note seen by everyone else in the seminar. This has been especially useful as it has allowed students to share their ideas anonymously and more extensively with other students’ ideas. This suggests that the transition to online learning has helped students who are less confident in sharing their ideas to feel more secure in doing so, even if anonymously.

On a personal and social level, one student I spoke to additionally revealed how online groupwork was also useful in offering a space to discuss how they were adapting to online learning, and to share ideas. With group presentations still occurring within my own course, students have been able to stay in contact and discuss module work together.

It is the sense of control over learning that I would like to emphasise going forward. It is so important to empower students when they watch lectures, and give them the space to share their ideas in an environment they feel comfortable with. This independence in relation to time management and preparation for seminars is especially important when so many may feel their motivation dwindling as a result of lockdown.


We’d like to thank Sophie for sharing the results of her research into how the pandemic has affected History students and would love to hear more from academics and their students, either on this blog or via Twitter @history_uk – get in touch if you’d like to have your say.

We’re currently collecting feedback on the Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook and would encourage you to fill in the survey here.

In addition, we’ll soon be announcing a follow-up project on pedagogy after the pandemic. So watch this space!

Pandemic Pedagogy: A student perspective 1

By Conor Penna-FitzGerald (University of Roehampton)


My name is Conor Penna-FitzGerald and I am a postgraduate history student at the University of Roehampton. My project analysed how students experienced online learning during the pandemic in comparison to the ‘normal’ classroom experience.

Starting my research for this post, I had thought there would be an abundance of views and opinions on online learning to be found online. In reality, I was amazed at how little there was. On ‘The Student Room’, I found only two forums, both of which emphasised limited access to primary sources, as well as other learning resources, such as course readings. Instead, I conducted my own research and spoke to nine UK-based History students (all postgraduates) on their experiences of online seminars, the predominant teaching method adopted by universities during the COVID-19 pandemic. These offered mixed views on the value of online seminars over the usual classroom experience.

The most consistent positive response was that of praise for the history faculty at their university. Not only have they have provided high levels of support and adapted quickly to the changing circumstances, but they have helped to establish a sense of normality. By keeping to a clear schedule, lecturers have helped to mitigate feelings of discontent amongst students. They have also taken on extra responsibilities in terms of providing psychological aid, providing reassurance about student’s abilities. Furthermore, their willingness to use new technology is commendable. Ultimately, history lecturers have clearly maintained a high level of professionalism, which has positively shaped student experiences.

One of the most important positives of this situation, is that commuting is no longer an issue. Many of the students I spoke to were commuting students, and their strenuous, long, exhausting journeys have now been diminished. Not only has online learning made it easier to attend seminars, but much cheaper. One international student shared this sentiment: it is easier for them to stay in their home country and study, much cheaper, and more familiar. Another UK-based postgraduate student emphasised that not needing to commute made her feel much safer. She is reliant on public transport as she does not own a car, and with seminars often taking place in the evening, ‘Zoom’ seminars have worked well. This suggests that when pandemic restrictions do ease, universities should consider continuing their offering of online learning, as it ensures access to higher education for people with physical and mental health problems (e.g. anxiety). It allows students to bypass social insecurities that come from physical presence, enabling them to reach their full potential in a safer and more comfortable environment.

To my surprise, only one person I spoke to mentions the benefits of pre-recorded lectures. The reason why I was shocked by this is because they can now be watched at any time. This allows flexibility for students and allows them to study at their own pace. If students do not understand any content, they can pause the video and re-watch it until they understand it.

Despite these positives, online seminars have been much more divisive in terms of student experience. Many of the issues with them have been clear since the beginning of the pandemic. One of the factors which can ‘make or break’ the student experience is their internet connection, and most of the students I spoke to confirmed this. Buffering, pixilation, ‘robotic’ sounding voices, and eventual disconnection from seminars have all posed challenges. These disrupt focus, cause a loss of motivation, and ultimately dampen the online learning experience. I suffer from bad internet and have needed to turn off the webcam to increase the bandwidth, or dial into the seminar by phone. I often chose the latter option, leading to a virtually non-existent social experience due to not being able to see the other students.

To further illustrate this, the image to the right is a screenshot of what ‘dialling in’ to a ‘Zoom’ meeting looks like. As can be seen, it is like that of a normal phone call.  This has contriImage of Zoom 'dial-in'buted to an atmosphere which has been totally ‘unlike’ university, and for those who do have to dial in, it unfortunately permits the emergence of solitary emotions due to the lack of community. Even students who have been able to engage with a webcam have felt the same.

As social interaction has been minimal, communication between students has suffered. One student commented that online learning has been disappointing because of the inability to freely communicate with their peers about what they really thought about the readings, as well as how assignments and dissertations were progressing. This has added feelings of what I call ‘assignment isolation’ (undertaking stressful and demanding work completely on your own), which was seldom there when students were physically present together in class.

In addition to this, online learning has made it easier for students to fall behind. It has been much harder for students to ask questions about lectures that have been pre-recorded and uploaded online. If a student needs clarification, they must take the time to email their lecturer and wait for their response. Students who dial into seminars to ask questions are also unable to use any ‘raise hand’ functions. Again, students would then have to email their lecturer after class and once again wait for their response. The online teaching format additionally (although inadvertently) allows for procrastination, due to recordings being available to watch anytime. It therefore requires the student to exercise more discipline over their time, which before the pandemic would have been structured in a clear university timetable.

Many of the problems described here reflect wider issues associated with the lockdowns and remote working, and so ways of combatting them are unclear. Nevertheless, even small steps could improve the student experience of university. If the student uses wireless internet, for example, the purchase of an ethernet cable would result in a much more stable internet connection. These cables vary in expense but are typically rather cheap! Moreover, for students who feel that university is now ‘no longer like university’, a group chat could go a long way in helping maintain contact with their peers. This would not only aid social interaction, but also allow students to discuss and assist each other in their assignments, reading, and dissertations. In this way, even if online learning is not seen as effective as campus-based learning, it does serve a purpose.


We’d like to thank Conor for sharing the results of his research into how the pandemic has affected History students and would love to hear more from academics and their students, either on this blog or via Twitter @history_uk – get in touch if you’d like to have your say.

We’re currently collecting feedback on the Pandemic Pedagogy Handbook and would encourage you to fill in the survey here.

In addition, we’ll soon be announcing a follow-up project on pedagogy after the pandemic. So watch this space!

Pandemic Pedagogy 2.0: A summary

As we bring our series of blog posts following up on the Pandemic Pedagogy initiative to a close, we thought it would be useful to summarise the interesting contributions that we’ve received. Looking back through them, we thought that they fell into three broad categories. First, there were several posts that addressed the issue of accessibility and building a sense of community among the student (and staff) body:

Second, several contributors reflected in a broader sense on the staff and student experience of teaching and learning during the pandemic:

Finally, we had three posts that explored innovative approaches to teaching and learning, from fieldtrips to assessment via the role of paper (remember that?) in the digital classroom:

To these we can add the posts that were published last year as part of the original Pandemic Pedagogy initiative, which you can find by looking back through the blog.

We hope that you have found these posts to be useful in thinking about your own teaching and learning experiences during the pandemic.

Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this series of blog posts. We hope that you have found them useful. If you would like to contribute another short blog post or podcast/video that addresses how the pandemic has changed or affected history teaching and learning in higher education then please email Dr Sarah Holland (sarah.holland@nottingham.ac.uk), History UK’s Education Officer. We’d also love to hear your views on the Pandemic Pedagogy initiative and on these blog posts via our Twitter account.

Pandemic Pedagogy 2.0: Emma Battell Lowman – Compassion in the Classroom during COVID

In our next post in our Pandemic Pedagogy 2.0 series, Emma Battell Lowman, of the University of Leicester, discusses the importance of building a relationship between staff that is reciprocally compassionate (inside and outside the classroom), especially during the pandemic.  

The post is based on a presentation at the East Midlands Centre for History Learning and Teaching workshop that took place on 11 January 2021 and will be published on the EMC website as well (https://eastmidlandscentreforhistorylearningandteaching.education/).


I’m a big fan of Dr Theo Gilbert’s work on the importance of compassionate practice in Higher Education. Here, “compassion” isn’t an emotion, like empathy, it’s a “psycho-biologically mediated motivation/an intention to notice, not normalise, one’s own distress or disadvantaging, or that of others, and take action to reduce or prevent it.” Theo’s practices build connections in the classroom that reduce stress, improve achievement, and support wellbeing for staff and students. By fostering connection and mutual support, they help us to push back against the fear, uncertainty, and doubt saturating the individualised, marketized, neoliberal, UK university sector. 

Some of our employers seem to be conveniently ignoring the fact that we are currently in national lockdown and almost a year into the devastations of the COVID-19 pandemic. But this isn’t normal, we’re not Ok, and neither are our students. And yet, we’re still here – professional and academic services staff – working however, whenever, and wherever we can to continue supporting our students and each other. We don’t need lunchtime wellbeing webinars, we need strategies that help us pool our efforts so we can get through this.

“Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility” are “the 4 Rs” of Indigenous education and research identified more than 30 years ago by Cree educational expert Verna Kirkness. The work of critical Indigenous researchers and experts directly informs my pedagogy and politics, and the concept of reciprocity is particularly important here. Compassionate practice in the COVID classroom isn’t just about noticing distress or disadvantage impacting students, it’s also about making space for reciprocal care.

We want and need to support our students, and I see colleagues doing so in creative, kind, and expert ways. But we’re missing something crucial if we limit this to a one-way relationship of care. I admit to my students when I am not well, not just because I do sometimes need to adjust activities or availability, but also so that students who might be struggling see honest communication and self-reflection as acceptable and encouraged in our educational environments.

One day I was struggling because a friend was assaulted, and I had a full day of teaching. I let my students know, we checked in for a few minutes then went into our activities. Consequence? They stepped up in class, and several reached out via email to extend care to me and share their own stories. The reciprocal care helped create learning relationships in the class with high levels of trust despite the challenges of our first online semester. These gave rise to strong positive supportive interactions around skills and content, and a remarkably successful semester, in these difficult times.


If you would like to contribute a short blog post or podcast/video that addresses how the pandemic has changed or affected history teaching and learning in Higher Education then please email Dr Sarah Holland (sarah.holland@nottingham.ac.uk), History UK’s Education Officer.

Pandemic Pedagogy 2.0: Tim Reinke-Williams – Delivering undergraduate teaching during the pandemic – some reflections

In the next Pandemic Pedagogy 2.0 post, Tim Reinke-Williams, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Northampton, talks us through how staff and students have coped with teaching and learning through the various lockdowns we have all experienced. We’re sure that his insights will resonate with colleagues at other institutions, so please do share your views in response to Tim’s post on Twitter or even write a post for this blog.


This blog focuses on how the undergraduate History programme has been delivered at the University of Northampton since March 2020. For the most part History staff and students have adapted well, but there have been challenges and we’re continuing to adapt to a changing situation.

Prior to the third lockdown in January 2021 most content was delivered online via weekly sessions in virtual classrooms. Attendance was good, but getting students to move beyond posting brief comments in chat boxes was challenging (notably at level 4), and there were concerns about whether students were staying in the virtual classroom throughout the session, or simply “logging on then buggering off” (a phrase I glibly included in an email, which a colleague decided to abbreviate to LOBO). We have evidence of this: one colleague stayed behind in the virtual classroom until only one student was left, then asked the person “present” if they wanted to chat – the lack of a response suggested they had been gone for some time!

Before Christmas the university insisted that we offered two hours per week of onsite teaching, which we were able to do through core modules at levels 4-5. First-year attendance was good, but staff noted that interactions between students were not as close as in previous years, suggesting that learning mostly online has made it difficult for new students to form friendships and interact in person. Attendance at level 5 sessions was lower than at level 4, but second-year students valued having onsite sessions.

The main challenges were at level 6 where there were no existing core sessions for students to attend each week. We usually run dissertation workshops at level 6 (four across the year) so some of the onsite delivery came through those, but we had to set up a rota to deliver the other sessions, and in general third years were reluctant to come on to campus, so attendance was poor.

The other challenge with onsite sessions was that we were expected to use hi-flex to enable those who did not want (or were unable) to come to campus to participate. Leaving aside that staff had to learn how to use the tech, the overall experience was unsatisfactory, with neither onsite or distance learners getting as much out of the sessions as they would have done had everyone been onsite or learning remotely.  Overall the team were pleased when everything moved online in January 2020. Blended sessions were difficult to deliver, and attendance declined as the term progressed.

To conclude by focusing on the students: most have accepted the ‘new normal’ and many have told us that we are doing a good job in difficult circumstances. Some have been frustrated by the inability to chat immediately after classes, so we’re staying in the virtual classrooms after formal teaching concludes and offering weekly drop-ins, but attendance at both have been patchy and despite many being digital natives, it’s clear that undergraduates still want real life interaction with lecturers.


If you would like to contribute a short blog post or podcast/video that addresses how the pandemic has changed or affected history teaching and learning in Higher Education then please email Dr Sarah Holland (sarah.holland@nottingham.ac.uk), History UK’s Education Officer.