Online learning: a blessing or a curse for dyslexic students?

Over the past few weeks many students across the UK have gone back to university. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that university life has been very different for all students, with the vast majority of us having all of our classes online. This change has been challenging for some, and welcomed by others. I wondered though; what effect has it had on dyslexic students? Has it been positive or negative? I knew that for myself it had been mostly a positive for my dyslexia, however I asked other dyslexic students their perspectives on the new online mode of teaching.

The main consensus was that for a dyslexic mind, online teaching was incredibly beneficial. Many dyslexic friends mentioned that having the ability to rewind lectures and take notes at your own pace meant that they got much more out of lectures than they usually did. Many of us found that in the past, in-person lectures had been challenging to properly listen and take in what was being said. This is because we had been concentrating so much on getting every word down and trying to ensure our spelling is correct. Friends said that now they could actually listen to what the lecturers were saying and could take in information at my own pace. Also, the lack of distractions from other students in the same room meant that it was easier to concentrate on lecture content. A dyslexic friend also discovered online lectures often have an automated captioning function, which means that you can copy and paste lecture transcripts for notes, or read along with the audio if that suits you. The automated transcript also means that spelling is not even a concern as the lecture is already written out for you, which is yet another pro for dyslexics.

However, the chaos and ambiguity of our ever-changing timetables has been overwhelming for dyslexic students. In the last week, there has been many emails from lecturers as we begin to phase in in-person classes. For dyslexics, the constant stream of emails with updated class locations and new tutorials has been almost impossible to keep up with. A few dyslexic friends mentioned going to in-person classes and getting the location or day wrong. Organisation is already an issue for many dyslexics, and with new platforms and changing class locations dyslexics are struggling more than ever. While the phasing in of in-person teaching is obviously a step in the right direction, and lecturers themselves are facing incredible amounts of chaos, it cannot by denied that it is incredibly difficult for dyslexic students to remember, organise and keep up with the frequently changing circumstances.

It’s clear that there are both pros and cons for dyslexic students with the current situation at university.  The online lectures themselves are incredibly beneficial. For years disabled students have been campaigning for lectures to be readily available online and recorded. Hopefully from now on recorded lectures will become the new normal, as it is certainly a benefit for dyslexic minds. However, with all the confusion that comes with blended learning at the moment, some dyslexic students are being left being. Hopefully when lecturers are more used to the new circumstances, more consideration will be taken for dyslexic and disabled students in general.

Maddy Shepherd, Dyslexia Scotland blogger