For those attending and teaching post-secondary education, there has been significant adaptation required during the pandemic. With classes over videoconference being the new normal and student-professor meetings happening via email or through the screen, it has been challenging for all those involved.
Students learning from home have had a hard time isolating their personal lives from their academics. Those who live with many others in smaller spaces, such as families in apartments, also face obstacles when trying to find privacy and quiet to complete their school work. Tools needed for being successful in completing schoolwork aren’t always available to students working from home.
“The most challenging part of the transition from in-class to online school would definitely be losing my motivation,” said Maria Torralba, a fourth-year Early Child Education student attending Ryerson University. She struggles with regular interruptions from family members and a barrage of troubling news about the pandemic she encounters while online.
In order for students to flourish with online schooling, high-speed internet, and a home Wi-Fi network is required. And, the fact is that not all students have access to wireless internet. For some, it is because they live in an area with no access to high-speed internet. For others, the costs associated with a high-speed internet connection and a home Wi-Fi network, which provides the flexibility for them to work in private, are beyond their own income of that of their family.
For many students, the university is about much more than academics; it is an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in their studies and surround themselves with peers who are on the same journey. The culture of the university campus is formative.
Graduating students also miss out on the major milestone of convocation. Instead of the huge congratulatory ceremonies they had hoped to experience with their friends, they have had to sit at home in isolation, on their computers, and participate remotely.
Those personally affected by COVID-19, with either family members or themselves falling ill, have to depend on professors understanding why their assignments are late. And many, even if not personally impacted by COVID-19, are struggling with the online educational experience during the pandemic.
Torralba feels that universities should be doing more to support students, by reducing the academic workload, giving students more time to complete assignments, and compensate students for fees they are paying for resources that are not accessible. She says that universities need to do a better job understanding the difficulties students are having during COVID. “They don’t know everything that a student is facing at home.”
According to a recent poll of faculty and students by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, university educational quality has suffered as a result of the pandemic. The main reasons cited are a lack of communication with professors, not having enough support, burnout from staring at a screen all day, anxiety, and fewer courses being available.
“This has been the worst year for many people, and definitely the worst year for me academically,” says Chloe Cuevas, a fourth-year student in Arts and Communications at the University of Toronto Mississauga. “I was contemplating taking time off but, being in my last year, I would rather just push through.”
Torralba has decided to take a different approach. “I decided to take next semester off because, right now, I’ve lost all motivation to continue school and I don’t wanna just waste my money…my program, ECE, is supposed to be interactive.”
With the pandemic causing uncertainty, and no end in sight any time soon, how universities handle online education and support for their students will need to continue to improve if they hope to meet student expectations.
Chantelle Cruzat-Whervin is an associate editor and journalist at Academic Matters.