New Brunswick

University students, profs face some difficulties in adjusting to online classes

On a typical Tuesday, Grace Snowdon would have spent her class-free day catching up on homework and cleaning her apartment. As a fourth-year student at Mount Allison University in Sackville, she likely would have gone to campus for a graduation event too.

Post secondary students struggle to adjust to online school, focus on classes, cope with COVID-19 news

Grace Snowdon is a fourth-year student at Mount Allison University. (Submitted by Grace Snowdon)

On a typical Tuesday, Grace Snowdon would have spent her class-free day catching up on homework and cleaning her apartment. As a fourth-year student at Mount Allison University in Sackville, she likely would have gone to campus for a graduation event too.

Instead, she's holed up in her apartment, finishing the last year of her undergraduate degree online. Graduation events have been cancelled and convocation has been postponed.

"Tuesday is no longer a catch-up day," Snowden said. 

"It feels like every day is a catch-up day." 

Mount A, the University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University and Université de Moncton cancelled in-person classes because of COVID-19. Universities have now switched students to online learning for the remainder of the semester, which ends in mid-April. 

"Even if all classes weren't online, I'd still be slightly stressed [this time of year], but this is a whole different level of stress because now I'm stressed about school, I'm stressed about moving, I'm worried for my friends and family, I'm worried for myself," said Snowdon, who planned to move to Halifax after graduation to start her career in health care. Her plans are now up in the air, especially since Nova Scotia set up checkpoints at its border.

Snowdon said it's hard for her to finish the school year online with all of those worries on her mind. And she's not alone, Snowdon says other university students are feeling overwhelmed and anxious too.

"I know I'm not the only person struggling with the adjustment," Snowdon said. 

"Doing school work takes so much effort, especially trying to complete everything and meet the deadlines while just trying to cope with everything in the world." 

Aaron Sousa, a first-year student studying journalism at St. Thomas University, didn't expect the semester to end this way. He misses his university community and in-person classes.

"I was at a university where I could study my passion and suddenly it felt like it was ripped from me early."  

Aaron Sousa is a first-year student at St. Thomas University studying journalism. (Submitted by Aaron Sousa)

Sousa said adjusting to online classes has been difficult for students who don't have a quiet, safe home and good internet connection. He's also worried some students may have to work twice as hard to finish assignments.

"I know rural students like myself have to deal with slower internet connections, so it takes longer to upload assignments or join on to a Skype call for a lecture," Sousa said.

Snowdon said her classes have changed "a lot" since her university moved online. Since it took universities a few days to launch online classes, professors were forced to push deadlines back and now some students have multiple assignments due in one day. 

There's no set strategy for how professors approach online teaching either, Snowdon said. 

"Some professors have said they're not going to teach us any new information, which is nice because that's a lot to do on your own. Others have said we're responsible for learning everything." 

No one way to teach online classes

Meghann Bruce, a professor at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, teaches more than 300 students in her first-year biology class. She made the switch to teaching online through posts and videos on Monday. 

"So far, so good," Bruce said. 

Meghann Bruce teaches first-year biology at the University of New Brunswick. (Submitted by Meghann Bruce)

One of the greatest challenges for Bruce was finding a way to make sure students learn the same information they would during a hands-on lab experience. 

Instead of doing in-person bio labs, students now have to study the techniques for a lab project and analyze experimental results from a previous study. 

The approach to online teaching varies depending on the professor, class size and complexity of the course, Bruce said. 

"Every instructor is facing a unique set of challenges." 

Bruce has found she's had to be more flexible and patient. She's had to adjust deadlines for students who are now in different time zones and those in homes with only one computer fighting for time to study online.

Bruce said the effectiveness of online learning depends on the course being taught, although she expects her colleagues will learn new strategies for teaching and that her students will develop new learning techniques. 

"It's important to remember that this is three weeks of their entire degree program, so the last few weeks [of this semester] don't necessarily define their entire university education." 

Still, Bruce misses her students and interacting with them in person.

"I love feeding off of the energy in the classroom, so that is the most disappointing part of this, but it's not totally gone because we are interacting online."

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