The Evolution of Student Interaction in the Pandemic Era

Author: Ruben Harvey

3 min readJul 4, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably reshaped our lives in countless ways, and university life is no exception. From lecture halls to Zoom calls, the academic landscape has transformed dramatically, compelling students to adapt to a new lifestyle. One of the most significant changes has been the shift from in-person to online learning.

Remember the days when you could whisper a quick question to your classmate during a lecture? In the virtual classroom, this simple act has been replaced by the now-familiar phrase, “you’re on mute.” The mute button has become a symbol of the communication barriers that online learning can impose.

Niki, a music student, reflects on the experience telling us how she felt that it was quite intimidating at the beginning. Detailing the challenges of having to unmute herself before asking or answering any questions. She said how she felt as though she were “on a stage, with all eyes (or rather, webcams) on” her.

The mute button, while a necessary tool for managing large online classes, has inadvertently created a sense of isolation among students. It’s not just about the physical act of unmuting to speak; it’s about the courage to ‘unmute’ oneself, to share thoughts and ideas in a virtual space that can sometimes feel impersonal and intimidating.

However, as universities are gradually returning to in-person teaching, students are experiencing another form of ‘unmuting’. This time, it’s not just about turning off a button on a screen, but about re-engaging fully with the vibrant, interactive university life that was put on hold during the pandemic.

The transition back to in-person classes has been a revitalising experience for many students. For instance, Niki has found the return to be a breath of fresh air. She feels as though she’s not just unmuting her microphone in this new phase, but truly ‘unmuting’ herself. This shift has allowed her to participate more actively, connect more deeply with her peers, and feel a greater sense of presence in her learning journey.

Indeed, the return to physical classrooms has allowed students to be heard in ways that extend beyond academic participation. It’s about reigniting the lively debates, the spontaneous brainstorming sessions, and the shared moments of discovery that are the lifeblood of university education.

Niki, like many students, acknowledges the complexities of this transition. She describes it as a mixed bag of emotions. While she’s thrilled to be back in the classroom, she also recognizes that it’s a significant adjustment. It’s as if everyone is relearning how to speak up’ in this familiar yet new environment.

As we navigate this new chapter, it’s crucial to support students in their journey of voicing their opinions, beliefs and ultimately their personalities. Universities can play a key role by providing resources to manage stress and anxiety, fostering a supportive learning environment, and encouraging open dialogue about the challenges and opportunities that this transition presents.

The pandemic has undoubtedly altered university life in significant ways. Niki, for instance, describes her experience as a journey filled with ups and downs. Yet, through it all, she feels she’s rediscovering her voice, both within the classroom and beyond now that she has been unmuTED.