The Positives of University Online

Edited by Jasmine Ryu Won Kang

As the school year is coming to a close with finals season setting in, I think we can all agree that this year was extremely unique and out of the ordinary. If someone had told me last year that I would become a full-time online student doing Zoom lectures and no longer writing in-person evaluations, I honestly would have laughed in their face as that was not how I planned for my university experience to play out. Throughout this year, I have heard about and personally experienced many of the challenges that come with online learning such as Zoom breakout rooms and a lack of participation, staring at a screen for what felt like an eternity, and dealing with other inconsistencies that we all knew would be nonexistent if we had in-person classes. Despite these challenges, looking back I realized that there were some positives to online learning that were unexpected but did make some of my courses and activity experiences more enjoyable than I thought they would be. 

1. Guest Speakers

Because every course and club event was online, I came to realize that a huge positive of online learning was that I got to hear from many guest speakers who were located outside of Canada. In one of my courses, we had weekly guest speakers that came to speak to us about different aspects of international relations and it made the course experience more enriching. I knew that if this course was in person that we would not have necessarily heard from these people who were located globally such as from western Canada and Europe as well. Through some of the political science groups on campus, I also had the chance to listen to career panellists who included guests in certain careers that were located outside of Toronto. This was actually even more helpful for many students who were in fact looking for careers abroad. This is why I hope that even when things go back to normal we still have the chance to hear and engage with people around the globe to learn their perspectives. 

2. Further Involvement in Events and Clubs 

Because every university club and extracurricular activity was moved online, I noticed that more people around me were attending events and participating more than they would have if everything was in-person and on campus. Due to Canadian winter weather and many people's long commutes, many students on campus would feel less inclined to stick around to get involved and join events but with everything being marketed on social media and events being quickly accessible via a Zoom link, I have noticed that there has been a higher participation level in various organizations. It seems that many people would still rather join an event from their own home than to have to go out, and it also benefits those with extremely busy schedules who feel like they have no time to stick around. Hopefully in the future to keep up participation, events can be done in a hybrid format so that if students do not wish to attend in person that they can still feel included and join online. 

3. Changes to exam formats

Let's face it, with the introduction of an online open book and take-home exams, I am sure that not many of us miss in-person exams and sitting at a random desk in a room for hours. In fact, many students in my classes are dreading the idea of having to write in-person exams in the future and I feel the same way. These changes to exam formats online have shown us that our understanding of the course material does not necessarily need to be determined by how well we can memorize concepts and then proceed to answer questions about them for a few hours but instead by how well we can explain and write about concepts and express various perspectives and arguments. We have learned that for some courses and programs we gain a better understanding of our skills while writing an essay rather than answering a ton of multiple-choice questions. It would be beneficial to many students if changes to exam formats are taken into consideration in a post-pandemic normal. 

Despite there being many challenges that come with online learning, hopefully, we can all take the time to reflect on the positives and see what we enjoyed most about this school year and what should remain the same in the future. University itself is a huge learning experience so instead of just focusing on the negatives, we should also attempt to focus on what we have learned and gained in the past year despite how different everything was compared to past years.