Home Education The realities of online learning: a mid-semester look

The realities of online learning: a mid-semester look

by Kayla Empey and Sidra Jafri

Ryerson students and professors weigh the pros and cons of online classes

The pandemic has shifted learning online, and students are very opinionated about the execution. (Pexels)

The smell of freshly baked goods lingers in the warm air heated by the oven. Christine Panday smiles as she throws in the last pie, thinking of how much her family will love her desserts on Thanksgiving. The smile slowly fades when she remembers she has 30 minutes to crack out her assignment due on Monday before her pie is finished. Panday usually loves to bake, but today her mind is scattered. There is so much school work she needs to be doing, she really doesn’t have time to be baking. 

Panday is a fourth-year philosophy student at Ryerson University. Taking six courses this semester, she finds that she rarely has time for anything besides school.   

She describes her usual day: waking up at 7:30 a.m., doing some readings, attending online classes all day until dinnertime, and getting back to work as soon as she’s finished eating. Although Panday was often busy like this when classes were in person as well, having to attend classes online makes her full work days even more tiring.

“If I’m going to (an online) lecture, I feel like maybe after the first hour I have to, you know, turn off my camera to get up and stretch or walk around because I’m so tired I feel like I’ll fall asleep,” Panday says.

Panday says she suffers from “Zoom fatigue,” a term that refers to the tiredness or burnout that students feel after overusing virtual platforms to communicate and complete their work. According to Google Trends, searches for Zoom fatigue started to increase in April 2020, and have continued to rise since then.

(Illustration by Dania Ali/Ryersonian)

But being on a computer all the time isn’t the only thing making her tired. She also believes that professors are expecting more from students since they are at home.

“I feel like TAs or graders and professors are being a little bit harder because they do expect us to have this free time and that’s not necessarily the right way to do things,” Panday explains. 

It is relieving for Panday when professors show an understanding of what a stressful time it can be for students. While some teachers are layering on the work, she has also had a professor extend a due date because she realized how much pressure students are under with online classes.

Panday also finds that it is easy to be distracted and that her classes could be much more engaging. Due to this, she does not believe that she is receiving the same quality of education as she would be in person.

“When you’re in front of a professor and they have the ability to properly explain what they want to explain, you’re seeing their passion. You can engage better that way,” she says. “It’s very discouraging when you just have a bunch of black screens to look at.”

For global management major Evan Listro, he finds himself waking up an hour or so before class in lieu of commuting time. He begins his day by enjoying some eggs and the occasional yogurt with a cup of coffee. Without a physical class setup, Listro finds it unnecessary to dress to impress, as he would have last year. Instead, he ensures he looks appropriate to show face on his class’ Zoom call. 

Online school and the pandemic has made Listro feel disconnected. What used to be socializing and meeting up with peers to study and review notes, has now turned into scrambling to reach out to classmates through zoom, in order to keep in touch and feel sane.

Listro says that staying connected with his peers is crucial for him. He’s put in the effort to reach out to a few of his fellow classmates, and has become relatively close with one student whom he shares two classes with. The pair help each other with their finance lab inquiries, or sometimes study in complete silence, because according to Listro, it’s nice to have another presence in the room. 

In January, just before the pandemic, Listro was on exchange at the University of Stirling in Scotland. Due to COVID-19, he had to prematurely return to Toronto in the middle of March, and self-isolate. 

“I (went from) being on campus last September – vibrant, vibrant campus. I head off to Scotland and come back and the amount of changes. It can be quite overwhelming,” said Listro.

“I felt like I was a stranger in my own city.”

Listro says he has sympathy for instructors who are doing the best they can, but still find it “hard to get solid class discussions going.” He says part of the problem is the result of students taking lectures with their camera off, so classmates aren’t seeing each other, or even sometimes seeing others’ full names.

“Let’s try and get everybody to put a photo (up) so that we can have some sort of connection,” he says.

COVID-19 has caused the biggest shift in education since the Second World War, according to the study “The Elephant in the Virtual Classroom” found in the Pedagogy in Health Promotion journal. 

(Illustration by Dania Ali/Ryersonian)

Reem El Asaleh, an associate professor in the school of graphic communications management, is teaching the same class online that she would normally teach in person. While the necessary activities are being completed, she says the level of engagement is not as high. 

“Personally, I prefer teaching in the in-class mode because I prefer the live communication with students,” El Asaleh says. “It would be much easier to see the interaction of the delivery materials on the students’ faces rather than black screens on Zoom.”

El Asaleh tries to encourage engagement by providing materials ahead of the lecture or lab, using Kahoot quizzes, and incorporating breakout rooms into her zoom lectures to allow students to have active discussions.

Research has found that online learning can be very beneficial, but only when it is done in a way that really engages students.

(Illustration by Dania Ali/Ryersonian

El Asaleh believes that some students are receiving the same quality of education as they would in person, but really it depends on the types of materials that are covered in the class. For her graphic design courses, she thinks that the education students are receiving is the same as it would be otherwise. As far as more hands on classes, that may not be the case.

First-year environment and urban sustainability student Marley Baichulall wakes up for his morning classes only minutes before. 

When Baichulall was in high school a year ago, he would wake up at the early hour of seven, and ease his mind and body into the day before he had to go to classes at R.H. King Academy in Scarborough. He was also very involved in his extracurricular activities. Baichulall would spend the early hours before school facilitating the Breakfast Club as president, and stay late after school to partake in work for the Visual Arts Council. This semester, he wakes up before class and is at home every day, with all his effort and time going toward school. 

“I definitely prefer getting the full amount of sleep, because if we had to go downtown I have to wake up like an hour and a half before to get ready and then get (to campus). This way I get my full amount of sleep,” said Baichulall.

Baichulall views remote education as a positive change. He says the new structure helps with his well-being, and ensures he is able to be well rested to learn. Even with Zoom fatigue, he says he uses self regulated breaks to feel re-energized and ready to study. 

With that being said, Baichulall doesn’t think he’s getting the same quality of education. Professors are inaccessible compared to in-person classes. Before the shift to remote learning, students would be able to talk to professors before or after class, or in their office. Now, some professors tell students to ask questions through discussion boards or emails that may get buried with the hundreds of other student emails the professors receive. 

“Certainly some of (the professors) are really good (at responding), but some of them it’s hard to figure it out. A lot of them just post the slides, all the readings, but you don’t really get to hear them explain things. So it’s harder to understand the content,” said Baichulall.

A common concern has been the tuition for this year. With classes being online, and campus facilities borderline inaccessible, students have voiced how they think they shouldn’t have to pay the full amount they usually do every year. 

“It’s crazy to me. When you look at the tuition breakdown, going into first year you have to pay for campus maintenance and things like that, but we aren’t on campus, so I feel it’s unfair that we have to pay for those things,” said Baichulall.

It is stated on the official Ryerson financial assistance page that “Ryerson is focused on supporting students through this difficult time. This means that current tuition and fees will be maintained for Fall 2020, while we invest in providing exceptional education and resources for all of our students.”

Baichulall isn’t the only one who has this concern. Several petitions had circulated earlier this semester, with students demanding the tuition be reduced. 

“I think one petition did go through. Ryerson responded that if they were to lower that then certain standards would not be met, which really is not a good excuse,” said Baichulall. 

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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