As the University of Saskatchewan administration does research into the impacts of online learning, students and faculty hope to see more accessible learning opportunities post-pandemic.
Through recent surveys, the U of S has been collecting feedback from students regarding remote learning. The results have been mixed, with many students longing to go back to campus but others thoroughly enjoying the online experience. It has been reported that the U of S might not return to an entirely normal course delivery post-pandemic, and that there may be an increase in the number of online courses offered.
Political studies professor Martin Gaal says the pandemic has forced the university community to consider online learning and its benefits as part of higher education pedagogy. However, while weighing the pros and cons, Gaal says he hopes for a balanced approach.
“Online education is a great gateway to higher education,” Gaal said. “We hope that the decisions that are made for online learning are pedagogically sound — that is, about fostering student success.”
“We hope that more online opportunities will round out the in-person experience.”
U of S Students’ Union president Autumn LaRose-Smith says it boils down to offering online education to those “who want it.” She says that there can still be in-person activity coexisting with online learning post-pandemic. For example, students can do their online classes with their friends at a coffee shop.
“There’s no reason why you can’t be in an online class but still [be] participating fully with a student group that you identify with,” La-Rose Smith said.
The USSU has also heard feedback from students regarding online learning. LaRose-Smith says she was shocked to see emails from students wanting the USSU to advocate for online learning post-pandemic.
“In our mind, we didn’t know why anyone would want [online classes] but, as we’re learning, there’s a lot of other factors that have made students want to take an online class,” LaRose-Smith said. “I do think that it is really important that we are accessible to those students who do want to have online classes.”
Although there are various benefits to online learning, from students learning at their own pace to higher rates of degree completion, Gaal says the online experience cannot account for the spontaneity that in-person courses offer.
“In the class, an idea or a concept or exercise might be a launching point into something much more robust and much more engaging and will facilitate active learning where students are having to use material,” Gaal said.
Gaal also says that the university experience goes beyond classes and that the university is a means for students to explore themselves. For him, Gaal says, “it really was a place for personal development.”
“I thought I knew what I wanted to do when I went to university, but to be honest, in hindsight, I had no idea. And it took that interactive environment for me to really find out what I was interested in, where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do,” Gaal said.
Gaal says that, in comparison to in-person classes, online classes are just “more functional” and “very structured.”
La-Rose Smith says that as an education student, she finds the current time really exciting because the pandemic is giving universities a chance to reshape higher education.
“It’s really exciting to think about how this has been a catalyst to reimagine education,” La-Rose Smith said.
“It’s really important, moving forward, that we are just listening to students as much as we can, so we can meet their needs and be the best education provider to them.”
Wardah Anwar | News Editor
Graphic: Akshara Dash