With the return to in-person learning just around the corner, many students are grappling with this huge adjustment two-thirds the way through the semester — and during midterms nonetheless. Is this change to in-person worth the trouble? Or would we all be better off doing online school for the remainder of the school year?
Going back in-person is a win for mental wellbeing
With the end of the month coming closer and closer, I find myself excited for the return to campus. For me, going to university is more than just education and the promise of a degree after many years of study. It is also the experiences gained by being on campus. From studying in the libraries to having a drink with friends at Dewey’s, university is more than just a classroom. It’s a key moment in our lives before we are released into the world beyond. With online learning, you are robbed of this camaraderie.
I miss being able to go for a drink with my friends after beating the grind that is midterms and projects. This ability to celebrate on campus was a reward for getting through all the projects, papers, and midterms worth half of my overall mark in a class. By being in-person, we are all able to meet up on a moment’s notice to share stories, and be together. With online learning, you don’t get that light at the end of the tunnel, just the slog.
Along with this, it’s not unfair to say that online learning pales in comparison to what one can learn in an actual classroom. Don’t get me wrong, professors have worked hard to adapt their classes to online learning, but it’s simply not the same.
With online classes, it’s harder to focus and harder to relate to the material. In my case, the lack of communication was devastating to my mental health. Online learning is synonymous with isolation in my mind, and as someone who needs personal connection to stay sane, that feeling of being locked in my house and staring at my computer for hours at a time is soul-sapping. I am happiest when I am learning with others, it’s what drove me to the university. But when I’m alone online, it’s hard not to think “why bother.”
Meanwhile, I am still charged tuition like I am walking the grounds of the university every day. To put it bluntly, I did not go to the university to be stuck behind my computer at home. I am paying to be at the university, as are many others, so obviously I am excited and grateful to be returning to in-person classes.
Going back in-person just isn’t worth it
Like most students, I was super excited when the University of Alberta announced we would be going back to in-person classes in Fall 2021. However, when COVID-19 cases spiked after Christmas of 2021, I wasn’t surprised when the U of A announced that we would be switching to online delivery. The part that really annoyed me is they decided that it would only be for the first three weeks, and then after an extension, until the end of February, still leaving the rest of the semester up in the air.
Not only is it frustrating to not know what the semester looks like, it is nearly impossible to plan for exams when we don’t know if they’re going to be online or in person. Do I need to find a space away from family members and other disturbances in order to be able to write exams over SEM or ExamLock? Do I need to start adjusting my sleep schedule to accommodate my commute to school? Do I need to set up a desk to do classes at home or can I expect to be back in the classroom soon?
This doesn’t even take into account the international students who went home for the holidays and couldn’t come back to Edmonton. Canada requires anyone who tests positive before entering Canada or who show symptoms to isolate for ten days — another barrier international students will have to face now that the U of A has decided they are in person. It’s difficult to know if you should get settled in at home, or start booking plane tickets back to Canada.
Additionally, seeing as we are going back on February 28 and the last day of class is on April 8, going back to school is really expensive for the one month of in-person learning we will be doing; plane ticket prices, finding a place to live, applying for visas, and trying to settle into normal life in a different country are all stressful factors that international students will be facing coming back for the last month of the semester.
How are we supposed to plan when the university doesn’t tell us whether or not lessons are going to be remote or in person? Obviously, trying to navigate the return causes much more stress than if the U of A had just decided to stay online for the entire semester, and the burden falls unfairly on international students.
While I can appreciate that students are excited to go back to in-person, the U of A’s approach to decision-making regarding delivery is stressful and unfair to students. The university should have simply remained online instead of repeatedly changing their mind throughout the semester, making the semester unpredictable for students and therefore difficult to plan around.