‘Where do we meet?’: Balancing the benefits of online school

Out with piling students into large lecture halls and in with folks watching Zoom calls. (Graphic by Aaron Sousa/AQ)

Gone are the days of students piling into lecture halls by the dozen. In, are Zoom calls that students attend from their kitchens and bedrooms in the comfort of their own homes.  

After a semester back for in-person classes, the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University returned to online school.

Mackenzie Prudencio, a third-year student at STU, said some of her classmates were thankful for the switch back to online classes.

By introducing virtual courses, university education became more accessible to students with lifestyles that conflict with traditional education structures.

“There have been a lot of mature students in my classes who have been able to go back to school while they’re parenting [and] still working,” she said.

Prudencio said that discussion forums, an online board where students type out and post their thoughts, are good for students who don’t like to speak up in class.

“I’ve learned so much about and from my classmates,” she said. “[Discussion forums] also make it so that the professors know we’re learning.”

Valerie Robichaud, a third-year student at STU, said the online format helps full-time students balance jobs that pay their tuition fees.

“I need to work,” she said. “It’s nice having flexibility so I can actually put in my hours where I’m more beneficial because of not having to be on campus at a specific time.”

Rebecca Skerry, a third-year student at STU, appreciates the concept of “soft deadlines.” Some of her professors experimented with this technique.

“Let’s say [the virtual assignment] is due on a Monday but the hard due date is Friday,” said Skerry. “I thought that was really interesting.”

Another professor would make their quiz available online from Monday through Wednesday. Skerry saw this flexibility as a way for students and teachers to meet in the middle.

“I was able to work around my work schedule,” she said. “It’s a good compromise.”

The pandemic also paved the way for more inclusive methods of teaching that appeal to students with more introverted or independent learning styles.

Kristine Laforge, a third-year student at STU, has a professor who records the class so students can watch the lecture later.

She said having the option to attend class synchronously or asynchronously made any choice feel accepted.

“I think the ‘new normal’ should incorporate new styles,” she said.

Luc Walhain, a history professor at STU, said virtual learning changed the dialogue around accommodation in classrooms.

He struggles to balance the traditional teaching style he is used to with the new way of learning. He said if something helps students learn, that should be the right way to do things.

“Young people today are different from young people when I was in college,” he said. “I think the contention is ‘where do we meet?’”