The Wits Vuvuzela class shares experiences of transitioning from in-person to online learning and bagging a degree during the covid-19 pandemic. 

The unexpected arrival of covid-19 during our second year of university study in 2020 was a mixed bag of positives and negatives as our lives became digitised with the switch to online learning. It forced us to adapt to a new way of life and a strange norm that we have had to snap out of now in our honours year.  

“Being able to work from home and complete the remaining two years of our undergraduate degree online due to covid-19 was a wonderful experience,” says Malaika Ditabo, for whom the freedom and responsibility to use time wisely was refreshing and accommodating. She no longer had to worry about waking up early and beating traffic to get to campus on time.  

This transition was also appreciated by Tylin Moodley, who says she was able to work at her own pace and had a lot of free time to do more art, exercise and catch up on TV series. She says exams were “somewhat easier” because of this. 

For Mpho Hlakudi this period gave him more confidence to engage in class and changed his learning experience. He says rather than having the lecturer “preaching upfront”, online learning became collaborative, and ideas could be exchanged.   

This joy, however, was not shared by all of us as some felt that the online experience was often difficult and taxing. Unlike Hlakudi, Colin Hugo prefers smaller in-person sessions which encourage interaction among students and lecturers, an element he missed with online learning. 

For Keamogetswe Matlala, “anxiety was a permanent resident”, during this time, due to factors such as regular power cuts which interrupted her online learning experience. Rufaro Chiswo, similarly, says that the unexpected transition brought about stress-related symptoms, such as sleep disturbances and increased depression symptoms. 

Our academic lives were often complicated further by interruptions from our home lives. Issues such as unstable Wi-Fi and the lack of a conducive working environment confronted Matlala and Elishevah Bome who both come from seven-person households. For Bome, an undergraduate degree that was meant to be “filled with new experiences” and the “building [of an] adult identity” was instead filled with “world war Wi-Fi,” with her siblings.  

Difficulties separating home and school life were also of concern to Tannur Anders, who felt that the shift blurred the line between her home and work life. Anders felt like a ‘workaholic’ due to her working 16-hours a day and says that online learning normalised overworking. 

Many of us found refuge in social media applications such as TikTok and Twitter which were a great escape from our constant Zoom and Teams meetings and online tutorials. These escapes though, have made ‘normal’ socialising for an extended period exhausting after the pandemic. Both Hugo and Anders say that this period took away from the growth one receives from interacting with other people.  

Essentially, learning during the covid-19 pandemic forced many of us to toughen up and to move with intention. Our determination to overcome the difficulties that we faced, fuelled our urge to complete our degrees and that is what we did! Each of us learned to adapt and to conquer the edge. Although the gradual transition to normalcy has been interesting, the return to campus has taught us to appreciate human interaction while granting us another shot at earning another degree – this time in person.  

FEATURED IMAGE: The Wits Vuvuzela class of 2022. Photo: Tshepo Ditshego