Online school is beneficial during a time of uncertainty

Graphic by Esra Rakab / Production Coordinator

By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor

With the COVID-19 crisis, most schools worldwide have had to revert to online learning for sustained periods of time. For postsecondary institutions specifically, this means lectures have been conducted via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Webex. Proctoring software such as Respondus has been used for exams and there have been significant changes to how and what kind of content is delivered.

All things considered, many individuals have chosen to halt their education until things are back to normal. However, considering that the duration of this pandemic is still unknown, this is likely doing more harm than good.

When you take school out of your schedule, particularly given this situation where we’re in a pandemic, there are not many other activities to fill it. A lot of work is now done remotely and other jobs that are still in-person maintain some risk of catching the virus.

Otherwise, leisure activities like going to the gym, movie theatre or even restaurants with friends neither fill one’s day nor are constantly available in this turbulent environment. Keeping school in the mix can at least contribute to some form of routine, which can be invaluable in such arduous times.

Keeping school in the mix can at least contribute to some form of routine, which can be invaluable in such arduous times. 

Moreover, learning, in general, carries a multitude of benefits — COVID or not. At McMaster University specifically, professors are still managing to deliver their course content in engaging and clear ways. Yes, there can be some Zoom fatigue, but instructors are highly aware of that and do their best to accommodate for that during class time, such as providing breaks in class for students. Many instructors have also been more lenient with different forms of testing and applying content, meaning that there are more — albeit different — ways to prove that you are learning. 

With online school specifically, no matter whether you like it or not, you will still obtain an abundance of new, useful skills. Organization, for one, can be more difficult for some when navigating through multiple different platforms for classes.

However, this forces you to challenge your previous systems and find new, potentially better ways to stay on track. Furthermore, tech is the future: getting better acquainted with spending a major part of your life on it is good preparation for whatever the future may hold.

Lastly, pandemic life is tough. There are rarely any constants that you can rely on and it seems like every day brings a new challenge to overcome. Yet, by committing to your education during such a difficult time, you are investing in your future self and showing you and those around you just how resilient and strong you can be. If anything, take pride in what you have been able to accomplish during these unprecedented times and look back when you need a reminder of your abilities. 

Yet, by committing to your education during such a difficult time, you are investing in your future self and showing you and those around you just how resilient and strong you can be.

With everything that’s been said, there are good reasons for gap years. If you are struggling and you know that your mental health would benefit from the time off, don’t be afraid to do so. Ultimately, as it is often said, filling our own cup is just as important as pouring from it. You know what is best for you.

However, if you are considering taking a year off solely because school is online, take some time to reconsider that idea. Overall, deeply considering your reasons for taking some time off your education can help you make the best decision for your future.

A seemingly sudden move to Microsoft 365 serves as a reminder that universities need to do a better job of understanding student opinions in a pandemic

C/O Tadas Sar on Unsplash

Change is hard. That is a fundamental lesson every McMaster University student has learned throughout this once-in-a-lifetime year. While we can all appreciate our ability in being able to personally overcome the transformative changes life throws at us, more often than not, our everyday lives yearn for little moments of stability.

Even though we all have our own individual definitions of what stability looks like for us, there are some facets of our life which we completely take for granted. We might only realize with great annoyance how detrimental their loss was to our day-to-day routine.

For example, when you lose your favourite metal straw, or your AirPods somewhere in your house, this seemingly small hindrance often does a remarkable job in souring your day. In a time where the fundamental truths of being a university student — such as enjoying an in-person year on campus — are under attack by our time of uncertainty, McMaster at the very least could soothe some of the unprecedented student anxiety by maintaining a small modicum of stability.

In a time where the fundamental truths of being a university student — such as enjoying an in-person year on campus — are under attack by our time of uncertainty, McMaster at the very least could soothe some of the unprecedented student anxiety by maintaining a small modicum of stability.

How can Mac do that you ask? By staying in touch with student opinions? By being aware of the actual, unfiltered realities of its students (especially new ones)?

Aside from the obvious cases of proctoring and online education, Mac in subtler ways has implemented some systems this year which greatly annoyed students, solely because they were so small, yet so infuriating. Mac plans on switching its primary student hub in Google over to Microsoft — as in students will no longer have a Google Drive, but an OneDrive, and instead of a Gmail, they will have an Outlook. 

While the reason for this change was announced via Mac Daily News, it nonetheless faced controversy from the student body due to the impracticalities associated with accommodating the changes (like having to move several gigabytes of data from Google Drive to OneDrive), but also with the disastrous performance of Microsoft Teams this year.

In my experience, the Microsoft Teams application was so functionally inefficient with large class sizes, that instructors often took up class time in switching to alternative platforms such as Zoom. Some went as far as switching instruction to taking place only on Zoom.

This is discounting the fact that countless students heavily relied on Google services such as Gmail and Google Drive in middle school, throughout high school and university until these new IT changes were approved. For many Gen Zs, (who will soon inevitably comprise the majority of Mac’s student demographic), anything Microsoft-related is a draconian relic of the past and many of us strongly believe there are much sleeker, easier to use and more compatible options are already available to us, right at our fingertips. 

For many Gen Zs, (who will soon inevitably comprise the majority of Mac’s student demographic), anything Microsoft-related is a draconian relic of the past and many of us strongly believe there are much sleeker, easier to use and more compatible options are already available to us, right at our fingertips. 

This is particularly worrying as there is a very real possibility that fall 2021 might be online and if not, it may shift online in accordance with health guidelines. Online workspaces are our way of life now, and we have already made enough changes than we expected, for better or for worse.

Students have earned the right to retain one simple facet of online school, which allows them to retain some semblance of their previously normal life. A change that might seem little and from the outside appears to be nothing more than technical difficulties, could have drastic real-life implications for students in their online environment.

Mac, once again, please be mindful of the choices you make on behalf of the student body. Listening to students might surprisingly help with that.

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