By Jason Barlow
The Covid-19 Pandemic affected everyone. Many of the impacts were obvious, others less so. When City’s teaching and learning moved temporarily online, it quickly became apparent that students’ access to digital resources was a far greater issue than had originally been anticipated. Generous donations from alumni gave students access to better technology.
The assumption that all students would have the digital hardware and infrastructure in place to attend online lectures proved to be somewhat optimistic. Furthermore, with most of society working and learning from home, households with only one laptop or limited WiFi coverage, began to feel the strain. All of a sudden, the home had the potential to become a fraught and stressful environment.
Through generous alumni donations to the Student Support fund, the University was able to move swiftly and implement a ‘digital inclusion’ campaign, ensuring all students had adequate access to the technology required so that they could continue seamlessly with their studies and complete their degrees.
Alex is a mature student in the second year of a three-year BSc in Speech and Language Therapy. Undertaking his dream degree was a huge challenge, not least because Alex lives on the Isle of Wight, and has a wife and children, for whom he is the primary carer, to support. He is not one to complain though, and when he found himself struggling to use Teams on his mobile phone, he kept quiet.
“I kind of got used to it so I put up with it. It wasn’t very practical when things crashed though.”
On learning of the Digital Inclusion Fund, he wondered if he was eligible.“The fund provided me with a new laptop and a mouse. This improved things immensely, and I found that I’d been struggling with the phone more than I’d realised. To not have to worry about technology, or to strain your eyes at such a small screen, was wonderful. I also had an award from Student Support and this has helped immensely with day-to-day costs. Particularly the travel from the Isle of Wight – it can be an eight-hour journey – cars, boats, and trains – and, even though I stay in London for a few days at a time with a friend, the travel costs really add up.”
Despite the course’s challenges – it is an academically and practically rigorous one – Alex is now turning his mind to what the future might hold.
“I’m still exploring where this can take me. I know that I need to do something that completely utilises my new-found knowledge and skills, but I’m letting the experience of my placements push me in the correct direction. For example, a placement that I had in my first year, had me working with people who suffer from dysphagia and aphasia.
“Dysphagia is a condition when the swallow is affected, and aphasia is when you struggle getting the words out (expressive) or understanding them when they’re said to you (receptive). The conditions are separate as they affect different parts of the brain. However, on my placement I often encountered patients with both systematic problems which was challenging but very rewarding when I saw positive outcomes being achieved by the team. It was fascinating to be thrown in at the deep end and learn much more about this.
“But then, further placements, could give me a taste of much more, and could push me in a different direction. Perhaps seeing how I can combine the experience and background that I have in early years education with speech and language therapy. That’s what university is about … discovering where your passions and interests lie.”
Wherever Alex goes with his degree, be it the NHS or back into an educational role, he would like to say thank you to all those who have contributed to digital inclusion and the Student Support Fund.