Post-secondary students battle hopelessness as online classes drag on into 2022

As online classes stretch into 2022, some post-secondary students in Ottawa say they’re struggling to stay engaged with school, make friends and keep hopelessness at bay. 

Pre-recorded classes, living away from home add to sense of disconnection

Kaylie Wood-Lyons is in her first year of Algonquin College's business management and entrepreneurship program. (Submitted by Kaylie Wood-Lyons)

As online classes stretch into 2022, some post-secondary students in Ottawa say they're struggling to stay engaged with their schoolwork, make friends and keep hopelessness at bay. 

Many students moved to the city this fall and took up residence either on campus or in their own apartments, in anticipation of in-person classes. 

Away from their support networks for the first time in their lives, some are finding it difficult to stay motivated and healthy.

I'm just sitting at a desk and kind of clicking through lecture after lecture with no feedback or encouragement, and it just feels like it's going to be like that for a while.- Gabbie Cruz, Carleton University student

Several Carleton University students who reached out to CBC via Instagram described their asynchronous classes as paying a lot of money to watch YouTube videos. 

While some of the pre-recorded classes are issued in blocks, others are released periodically. Students who spoke with CBC said some of the videos were obviously recorded before the pandemic.

"You feel very disconnected throughout the whole lecture when you see all the students in real life talking to each other and learning and being really engaged," said Carleton student Gabbie Cruz. 

Gabbie Cruz is in their second year of childhood and youth studies at Carleton University. They moved to Ottawa this fall anticipating more in-person classes in the winter semester. (Submitted by Gabbie Cruz)

In an email, Carleton university spokesperson Steven Reid defended the asynchronous learning model.

"Some students are early birds while others either prefer or can only learn and study late at night. Asynchronous courses provide flexibility," Reid wrote in an email. 

He said the school provides a variety of in-person and online resources to help students build study and time-management skills. 

Gabbie Cruz, Carleton University

"Online school has just really drained my passion for anything," said Cruz, a 2nd-year student living off campus. "I'm just sitting at a desk and kind of clicking through lecture after lecture with no feedback or encouragement, and it just feels like it's going to be like that for a while."

Cruz completed the first year of their degree in childhood and youth studies at Carleton University from their family home in Oakville, Ont. 

When they registered for second-year classes this summer, one workshop this fall and all their winter semester classes were scheduled to be in-person, so they took a leap and found an apartment with two roommates off campus.

Cruz is a "rigorous planner" who relies on a bullet journal to plan their days, but said there have been challenges.

"I'm doing all the things of living alone — balancing making sure I have food to eat and making sure that I have time to sleep," Cruz said. "When you live at your parents' house, it's almost all taken care of and you can focus entirely on school."

Last year, several of Cruz's online classes required students to log on at a set time, but this year, aside from the one in-person workshop, they're in charge of their own schedule.

Cruz has taken advantage of the counselling Reid mentioned, which they describe as "pretty good in theory" but ultimately "performative" without better support. 

Cruz said they don't understand why the Panda Game and other sports events have been allowed to go ahead, while other activities they value — theatre, for example — remain cancelled.

"You don't know why things are happening, so it just feels like they're just coming out of nowhere and you can't stop them and it's very inevitable that you are going to land in these pits." 

Algonquin College's campus sits virtually empty in 2020. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Kaylie Wood-Lyons, Algonquin College

First-year business, marketing and entrepreneurship student Kaylie Wood-Lyons had heard good things about life in residence at Algonquin College, but three months in she "would never, ever recommend this residence life experience to anybody." 

"I thought I was going to have a mental breakdown over how constrained we feel here and how we feel like we're just being treated like prisoners." 

Wood-Lyons, from Carleton Place, Ont., about a 40 minute drive west of Ottawa, said she chose to move into residence to beat the isolation of pandemic life. But with no visitors allowed in residence, it hasn't worked out that way. 

"I even got super, super sick. I had to be hospitalized and I had to still walk myself down and go outside and get medication from my sister because they wouldn't let my sister walk up," she said. 

Algonquin College said in an email it's considering allowing fully vaccinated visitors next semester.

Daniel Vlassov, Carleton University

Daniel Vlassov is in his first year at Carleton University, studying computer science and living in residence. (Submitted by Daniel Vlassov)

"I burn out by the end of the day. I don't have a proper disconnect from my dorm room, where I have a double room. I work in front of my bed," said first-year computer science student Daniel Vlassov, who's living on campus. 

Vlassov said instead, he could have put the money he's spending on residence toward tuition, which he's covering through student loans. 

But with one in-person class scheduled next semester, he says he feels he has to stay on campus, and says the university hasn't been forthcoming with information.

"They say, 'We're looking into this' ... but we're never given a clear answer."

Carleton shares COVID-19 information via email, its web portal and on social media, according to Reid. Student get more information directly from departments, he said.