2021 marks a first in Wits history, as first-years start the academic year without physically being on campus.

First-year faculty of humanities students at Wits University have expressed mixed feelings about their first month of online learning. 

The entire academic programme for first-year humanities students is being conducted online through Ulwazi, the university’s new Learning Management System (LMS), and Microsoft Teams, as part of the Wits covid-19 campus safety regulations.

David Joffe-Hunter, a BA general student, explains the anxiety and confusion he feels as a result of having no in-person contact with lecturers.

I find it quite tough. Not so much the lectures, but to figure out assignments and due dates and what is expected of mecan login to lectures just fine and take notes, but to know what I have to do on my side, I find very difficult when it’s all online, says Joffe-Hunter.

Professor Daryl Glaser, a Wits politics professor teaching first-year students onlinesays that lecturers are aware of the problems that many students face with online learning.

“We do know that a significant number of students experience problems with data costs or connectivity or do not have laptops. And we do know that a significant number of students are struggling,” says Glaser.

He adds that despite the use of supplementary online platforms for learning during the pandemic, “There is no substitute for in-person learning and the atmospherics of life on campus.”

James Geldart, a BA general student, empathises with lecturers who are responsible for teaching large numbers of new students online.

“I’m okay with waiting it out because I’m sure that the lecturers are also still trying to figure most of it out and see what’s best for everyone,” says Geldart.

Danielle Peché, a BA general student, says that she personally enjoys online learning and feels that her academics will be better because of it. 

“There is nothing to distract you, and all the work is all in one place because they will upload everything. Its more organised,says Peché.

All of the first-year students who gave comment for this article feel disappointed that they cannot have the authentic university experience of attending lectures on campus and meeting new friends.

Jessica Pegram, a BA general student, says that, “It’s been very lonely just studying from [my] room and not having as much help from the lecturers.”

However, some students have overcome the awkwardness of making new friends online by asking other students for help over WhatsApp.

“Something was wrong with my e-mail, so I messaged [my class WhatsApp] group and someone private messaged [me back] to help, and now we still talk,” says Nichaella Beharie, a BEd student.

FEATURED IMAGE: First-year Wits humanities students have to conduct most of their online learning through Ulwazi, the university’s new LMS. Photo: Matthew Nijland.