University: The Online Learning Edition
By Maryam Sheikh
Earlier this year, many universities made the difficult decision to close campuses and opt for online learning for the Fall 2020 semester. Students across the province had to scramble in order to make arrangements; some, like international students, flying back home for the semester, and others, managing leases and leaving student homes.
These decisions have been received differently by students. For most, distance learning is not an ideal; some areas have limited access to the Internet, a tool that schools are heavily depending on for these upcoming semesters. Furthermore, the pandemic has caused a significant decrease in job opportunities, especially for students, so financing post-secondary education has come up as a large concern. Lastly, many students fear that the quality of their education will be impacted; with no office hours, in person study groups, or extracurricular activities running, the school year will look drastically different from most others. For these reasons, some students have chosen to take a gap year and start their university journeys when a more conventional experience is possible. Others have braced themselves for the journey.
Schools across the country are coping differently. Some small classes, such as specialized upper year courses, are being held in person while upholding social distancing and safety precautions. Other classes are being offered through online platforms such as Zoom, with hundreds of students tuning in for their lectures. On the flip side, some courses are being offered without any synchronous components- instead, students are required to complete courses at their own pace.
This has been an interesting and difficult time to navigate. Online forums, social media accounts, and news articles have shed light on the hectic and busy experience the first week has brought. Incoming students have gone from a virtual welcome week full of upper year mentors to being thrust into full course loads of classes, attempting to navigate their online university learning platforms.
Now that the year has started and these plans have been put into place, faculty members and educators can get a real glimpse of how students are coping with this new reality. In talking to peers, I’ve heard mixed responses. Some students are grateful for the extra time they have gained (with commuting no longer in the picture), access to their professors through online meetings, and more time to study without distractions. Others have said that they’ve struggled to find social groups, maintain focus on long Zoom calls, and keep up with a study schedule at home. It has also been difficult for students to get used to university life and expectations with no in-person guidance. However, many professors have been helpful and understanding. They have acknowledged that this semester will be successful only if everyone is cooperative and supportive.
Throughout this time, I advise everyone- first year students and upper years alike- to use support networks, reach out for help, and remember that we are all in this together. It will definitely be a unique transition, but with planning in advance, prioritizing wellbeing and safety, and trying our best to remain steadfast in the face of obstacles, we will triumph through this year. I’m rooting for you all!