After a semester of remote learning, student feedback highlights a desire for peer connection and difficulties managing deadlines in the online format.
The University of Saskatchewan has now completed its first semester with the campus closed and classes primarily online. In a recent article by the Sheaf, vice provost of teaching learning and student experience Patti McDougall discussed the higher withdrawal numbers in the Fall 2020 term, as well as survey results showing students are struggling to maintain motivation, in part due to a perceived heavier course load.
However, the students who withdrew were not the only ones that struggled to keep up with assignments.
While some students have created class-wide group chats and professors are encouraging classes to communicate on discussion boards, some still feel the detrimental effects of solo-learning. Second-year College of Arts and Science student Anastasia Chan and second-year pharmacy student Tannis Perault say the quality of their education has suffered this year, in part due to the lack of social engagement.
“Most different was not being able to see people in person,” said Chan. “I had some profs that did Webex meetings but it wasn’t the same as sitting in class and being able to have group discussions and being able to talk to the person beside you.”
For Chan, feelings of isolation were compounded with a difficulty to engage with class content and seek clarification from professors. This was particularly challenging for her in math and science classes.
“It was different because it didn’t feel like there were as many opportunities to ask questions,” Chan said.
Chan notes that her math and science classes had a heavier course load than her humanities courses.
“I had a lot more assignments given,” Chan said. “I think my profs thought that was the best way to assess our learning rather than in-person discussions in class.”
Perault also perceives an increase in the number of assignments expected of her throughout the term. Comparing the Fall 2020 term to previous semesters, she noticed crunch time was not limited to exams, but rather a constant during the term.
“It got overwhelming,” said Persault. “Normally finals are harder, but during the school year there was a due date every few days.”
Chan adds that balancing her school work with other responsibilities was especially challenging this term given the heightened levels of anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I found that it was an interesting experience juggling everything I needed to do and monitoring and maintaining my mental health,” said Chan. “Stress plus [the] course load felt a lot heavier than it would’ve, had it been a normal term.”
Despite the challenges, Chan recognizes and appreciates her professors’ and the university’s efforts in the switch to online education.
“Honestly, with the short time [in which] the university responded and switched to online, I do really appreciate how quickly they moved,” said Chan. “I’m not sure if there was much that could’ve been changed. The university did really well as a whole.”
Perault agrees that the university made the best of a bad situation, citing her professors’ responses and conduct as examples of what worked well.
“Professors were extremely supportive; they were very accommodating,” Perault said. “Given the circumstances, it worked out well. I don’t know how they could’ve done it better.”
The burning issue remains whether online classes provide students with the same quality of education they would receive with in-person content. Perault says that while her experience this term has been good, she does feel a difference.
“I think I learned a lot,” said Perault. “But I don’t think I learned as much as I would’ve in person, with easy access [to] discussions and to professors to ask questions.”
Chan believes that in-person classes provide students with more advantages and a better quality of education than online classes.
“It was different. I found that some profs … had a harder time adjusting to online because materials were presented in a way that was more difficult to understand,” Chan said. “It was just not as high-quality as you would’ve received had it been in person.”