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Jakub

The impact of COVID-19 on University life

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Jakub

30 March 2021

Jakub Maziarski

The impact of COVID-19 on University projects

A year on from the beginning of COVID-19 (in the UK), we’re all starting to reflect on how this pandemic has affected us. One area that’s been particularly disrupted is university life. From
new students attending university for the first time, to final year students transitioning into
full-time work.

Before the pandemic, I went into my third year at Leeds Beckett University, with high expectations of achieving the best possible grade, with the knowledge gained from my placement year at Dynamic. With the support of my colleagues, I was confident and ready to attempt a final year project that was a little out of my comfort zone. My dissertation project incorporated learning Unity and the fundamentals of augmented reality. I was keen to improve my development skills by creating an immersive basketball playbook, which came to life when the pages were scanned. I was lucky to be invited back to work part-time for Dynamic (one day a week) throughout my studies, and this helped me receive extra feedback on my project outside of university hours.

Lockdown

When the first UK lockdown started in March 2020, I was in the final semester of my third year. At this point, we only had around two months or so before we finished university for good. My final year project was beginning to take shape and had been through multiple revisions to help form the final product. I also had two other projects to finish, including a group project.

At the time of the lockdown announcement, I think it just added to the worry and stress of my university deadlines. My situation was unique because I was in the middle of the most important semester of my life. It also posed quite a few issues with how the remainder of the modules would be delivered and assessed. The first thing that popped into my mind was: “How will we do our final year presentations?”

Learn Teach Play

Switching to online learning

In a very short space of time, we had to quickly shift from face-to-face teaching to online learning without much preparation. Although the university quickly put measures in place like video conference and remote access, it can’t replace all aspects of the classroom environment. If you have ever been in a Teams call with more than eight people, you’ll understand how tough it is to brainstorm and get everyone involved. We overcame this by holding our own group meetings regularly, outside of lectures and teaching hours. I’m very lucky to have studied with three good friends that motivated each other throughout all of the modules. One of those friends is James, who also works at Dynamic.

Image collage of Coach's Best Friend product.
Coach's Best Friend logo

My dissertation project, of an immersive basketball playbook, was accompanied by a set of flash cards. These were made so that the coach could easily deploy plays in under pressure situations during basketball games.

As these needed to be scanned and recognised by the app, the printing had to be very high quality. This was the only time I remember needing to go into university during lockdown. The library printers were my only option after a few vendors declined due to COVID-19 or the small quantities.

In a mad rush, I gained permission from the tutors and was able to fulfil my planned deliverables. It felt really strange to be in the building as there were hardly any staff or students around. This could have been the first time I used a mask too!

Testing and delivery

As my project included a physical product, I had to change how I would test and deliver it. Our marking scheme relied heavily on user testing and industry feedback, which was tough to acquire in lockdown. The tutors were really understanding of the situation and weren’t too strict on who we tested our products on, therefore, I had to test the product on whoever was in my household. Although they weren’t in my target demographic, it allowed them to have a say in the final product and let me record how they responded to graphics, animations and interfaces.

Finally, the biggest change was the end-of-year presentation. In an ideal COVID-free world, I would have been able to demonstrate the app and give a copy of the playbook to my tutors to keep. However, lockdown meant that the deliverables had to be changed to a 15-minute voiced over PowerPoint. I’d never used this feature while at university so it made me quite nervous to begin with. After three or four attempts, I was able to get my timings right and relay all the key points of my product. After the tutors finished reviewing the PowerPoint, we were invited to a Teams Q&A session where we were given the chance to justify all the decisions made throughout the project. This was one of the last times I spoke to my tutors and it was quite gutting it had to be done virtually. After four years at university with them, that final interaction didn’t do it justice. I hope we get to celebrate properly at graduation soon.  

Working from home

As I completed university work from home, I found it came with lots of distraction and creative blocks. This led me to take up more outdoor activities like dog walking and running (obeying lockdown restrictions). This definitely helped me refresh and regain focus during long days working at the computer. I also found that putting my phone on charge in another room, helped reduce the amount of temptation to pick it up and scroll through social media.

At the time of the first lockdown, I thought it would last a couple of weeks and we would be back to normal quickly. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. To avoid being in my student flat, I moved in with my girlfriend’s family so that I could focus on the rest of my studies without worrying about rent, etc. The university was very understanding of everyone’s situation and extended deadlines to help relieve the stress of the pandemic. At the same time, Dynamic was very good at communicating and updating us weekly about the ongoing situation. I felt supported throughout the uncertain times and that they were doing everything possible to get us back working.

During my time away from work, I was able to finish my university degree and achieve a first class honours in Creative Media Technology. Although I was gutted to find out we couldn’t have a graduation ceremony, I was super pleased to have finished with a good grade.

Coach's best friend, finished product

Come July, when restrictions were being eased and the world was opening back up again, Dynamic was able to offer me my full-time position. I was over the moon and so happy to be returning to work.

Although in a home setting, I was ready to get started right away. I believe I adjusted to working
from home quite quickly due to having experience with collaborative online working at university.

However, I did really miss the office atmosphere and seeing my colleagues. I think the social aspect of work really improves idea generation and certainly improves group feedback.

Overall, I think the whole situation could have been a lot worse and I’m really grateful for the support of my university tutors and Dynamic. 

I was able to achieve quite a lot which kept me motivated throughout the pandemic.

Coaching session

When I returned to full-time work, Dynamic had all the online systems ready to help us to adjust quickly. We’re able to deliver work that’s just as good, if not better, than before.

We are still not fully out of the pandemic, but the end is in sight. I can’t wait to finally celebrate all the missed achievements, birthdays and more with friends and family.

 
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