The Give and Take of Online School

If there was one thing I didn’t see coming, it was that I would be spending my last year in college almost exclusively within the 700-or-so square feet of my apartment. The past three years have been quarterly waves of new classmates, new classrooms, new professors, feeling the ambience that comes with working minds in the same room, sensing the energy of bodies as they lounge or sit perked up. Now in my third quarter of online classes, I’ve noticed that it’s not all bad—just a bit of a give and take.

The Give

What are the benefits of online schooling when you’ve got no other option? Well, friend, let me tell you!

  1. 1. Coffee

    At any point in my day, I can—without missing anything that’s going on in class—go and make myself a pot of coffee. Or pour myself another glass. Or suffer the merciless coffee sweats without anyone knowing. Maybe coffee isn’t your thing, but the point still stands: refreshments are mere steps away at any point—and you won’t insult your professor by getting up to get some.

  2. 2. Food

    You can probably see where this one is going. Perhaps a double-edged sword, the thrill of snacks on hand is matched only by the threat of binge-snacking. My middle ground? A bowl full of clementines for a quick, juicy, refreshing treat. School can be a lot—and online school can be that much more—so making sure you’re fueling your mind is key to maintaining your well-being, both mentally and physically.

  3. 3. Squats!

    Okay, so not specifically squats, but let me ask you: have you ever been sitting through a two-hour class and felt your legs and back get stiff? I have, and it’s only gotten worse being all online. But—with that fancy “video off” button, I can, in complete privacy, just stand up and knock out 20 squats, stretch my legs, maybe a little yoga, do some deep breathing, and then sit back down and rejoin the class with video on. No more must we suffer the stiffness of sitting for hours on end.

  4. 4. Multimodal Teaching

    Everyone was pushed into online classes, not just students, which means that our wonderful professors have also had to adapt and overcome. Maybe I’m imagining things, but it seems like course material has adopted a more multimodal style; I have never been assigned so many videos or movies in alignment with coursework. Sure, none of this compares to the reality of physically being in a space with other working minds, but there is something to be said for the variety of teaching forms that have arisen.

  5. 5. Open-Note Tests and Quizzes

    Gone are the days of professors handing out paper tests and quizzes, replaced by a need to make that translate to a virtual setting. As a result, all of my tests and quizzes have been open-note—as I would argue they should have always been, since tests and quizzes are often about applying what you’ve learned, not simply regurgitating it. It has left me feeling more competent and able to study for these, since I know my notes will be available to me. Also, the questions are often crafted in a way that googling it wouldn’t help. Maybe not everyone is a fan—but I sure am.

  6. 6. No More Choosing Between Your Lecture and the Bathroom!

    More than once I have left a class to go to the bathroom and wished that the bathrooms did that thing they do in sports arenas. You know, where the commentator audio is still playing in there so you don’t have to miss anything. I realized that’s not realistic since multiple classes are going on at any given time in the same building. But now with online schooling, it is! With my Bluetooth earbuds, I never have to miss a moment of class discussion—and that goes for other things we may wander off to do, like fold the laundry or start making dinner. Perhaps this is a bonus just because I’m a bit of a nerd, but at $60,000 a year, I also have a vested interest in not missing out on what’s being taught.

  7. 7. No More Commuting!

    When I lived on campus “commuting” meant a five-to-ten minute walk. When I lived nearby but off campus, “commuting” meant a ten-minute walk. Now, “commuting” isn’t even part of my life. Where I live now, it would take me 20 to 30 minutes to commute to school, which means that I would spend an hour of my day, five days a week, in my car on the road. That’s an hour I can spend reading, catching up on homework, writing a quick essay. Now that everything happens in one location, I don’t waste any of my life getting to and from places. (Plus, it reduces the amount of gasoline I burn, reducing my carbon footprint and my monthly gas costs.)

  8. 8. Names and Pronouns

    On the first day of class is usually when we get the chance to learn people’s names, and while I can sometimes remember most of them, I definitely forget a few and feel awkward when I try to reference something they’ve said. But with Zoom, everyone has a screen name, which is usually at least their first name if not their full name, which means it doesn’t matter! I don’t have to remember anyone’s name because it’s always right there—which, by default, means that I often do end up remembering more people’s names. And of course, if you’re at Seattle U, then you’ve likely been encouraged by professors, and perhaps peers, to include your pronouns with your screen name. This sort of thing, while seemingly small, can sometimes be that thing that makes communicating with your peers and exchanging ideas that much more effective and fruitful.

    The Take

    Nothing good ever really comes without its bad…

  9. 9. Mental Health

    Since the beginning of the pandemic, reports of those with anxiety and suffering from depression have risen drastically, and there’s no come-down in sight. Go ahead and add on top of that handling a course load of whatever size, as well as Seasonal Affective Disorder, and we’ve got the least ideal conditions for fostering healthy environments for our mental health. I know I have certainly felt my depressive moments more intensely, as well as increased anxiety. And let’s face it—that much screen time cannot be helping.

  10. 10. Increased Screen Time

    Sure, every Boomer and their kid were insistent that looking at our phone screens so much would be detrimental to us—and we know that it is. But to go from casual phone use and using the computer for homework to staring at a brightly lit computer screen for two to six hours in a day is unwieldy. I have noticed my eyesight worsen, as has my sister and some of my peers. Talk of blue light filters has arisen…

  11. 11. No In-Person Engagement with Others

    Many of us gripe about group work or group projects, and the statement “I hate everyone” is still an edgy one, but nothing can quite replace the experience of being in the same room with others and sharing ideas. There is an energy that occurs in those spaces that is struggling in this digital realm. I really do miss meeting up with other people in a room with awkward desks and dysfunctional heating systems. For all the attempts I’ve seen with technology (which, unsurprisingly either fall flat or just shy of the mark), this is something that cannot be replicated.

Online school, though not something new, is definitely a new experience for many of us, as the pandemic and our global response has resulted in the necessary shift to a virtual realm. It's a lot to take in. The gives and takes, pros and cons—we can all delve more deeply into these categories, and in that process perhaps find what impedes us so we can adapt, what gives us gratitude so we can appreciate.