Post-secondary students weigh in on the return to a 'new normal'
'A lot of my colleagues struggled significantly as a result of the online learning component'
Post-secondary students in northern Ontario have shelled out thousands for an educational year like no other — and they are reflecting on what has been a dramatic shift during the pandemic.
Michael Haley, a second-year education student at Nipissing University, said it's been a tricky year to navigate.
"Especially in a class on mental health, for example, the opportunity to learn as a group was missed. There was lots of YouTube video watching as opposed to critical thinking, and I think there are some unfortunate aspects of that that need to be addressed, if classes were to be held online next year."
The 2020-2021 period marked the first full school year where students and teachers had to adjust to a different way of learning during the pandemic, which began affecting schools just over a year ago.
'As a cohort of graduates who have experienced both the first year in the old normal and the second year in what could be the new normal, I think we'll be able to give input on how to make this better.- Michael Haley, Nipissing University student
Some professors have made the student experience more unique and guided, something Haley has appreciated.
"I think as a student who benefits from learning individually, I was fortunate in that regard, but I would say other areas were dropped or missed. And students who need group involvement definitely struggled. I know a lot of my colleagues struggled significantly, as a result of the online learning component."
Manoeuvring placement issues
A Northern College student said she feels her school has done a good job offering online learning as society deals with COVID-19 — but she's looking forward to some in-person learning down the road.
Rebecca Berday, a first-year early child education student from Englehart, said she will do a work placement during her second year of studies. She noted students who did placements this year ran into issues.
"With the government regulations on daycares, whether they opt to be open during this time or if they opt to close, it limits the amount of opportunities for students to get into daycares."
Working on courses online has posed a few challenges, said Berday.
"When we have an assignment to observe children, if you don't have access to a child in your life, you have to rely heavily on YouTube and hope that you have the video you're looking for, as opposed to, if we were in class, we could actually go to a daycare, and observe the children."
Northern College has announced a tentative return to in-class learning, as much as possible, this fall — barring any unforeseen pandemic-relate changes between now and September.
Haley said he's glad he persisted with online learning this year.
"So much of this experience is about learning and adapting. And I think as a cohort of graduates who have experienced both the first year in the old normal and the second year in what could be the new normal, I think we'll be able to give input on how to make this better."
Sault Ste. Marie's Sam Ivey says he's been finding online school to be challenging. He is currently studying for his masters in business administration at Laurentian University.
"I am a very personable person and I do like to create an actual connection with profs, whether it's before or after class or answering questions in school," he said.
"So it's a little bit challenging. But I am fortunate that I do have a professor that I had in my undergrad and I have a great relationship with and am able to bounce ideas off of."
Learning remotely has also allowed Ivey to work as a full time employee in the Sault, and then spend his evenings and weekends studying.
"I've been fortunate that I've actually been able to gain real world experience and still leverage my education as well."
He said the extra work is worth it for those looking to further themselves.
"[Learning] online is a little bit different. So make sure you're focused that you're able to sort of dedicate time at night and on the weekends to actually getting your work done, because it is challenging in that sense," Ivey said.
"But look to do other things as well. So maybe you'll be able to juggle a part time job and do both. It really is sort of a balancing act.
With files from Markus Schwabe and Martha Dillman