By Sophia Lopez, March 24 2021
On March 12, the University of Calgary’s TEDx club held an event to discuss UCalgary’s COVID-anniversary and reflect on a year of online learning. A year has gone by since the university decided to shut its doors due to COVID-19, and the TEDx students had a lot to say about how the pandemic had affected their personal lives and if much will change once we return to our “normal” lifestyles. As explained by one of the vice-president events, Lidia Ghebreyohanne, UCalgary TEDx events usually consist of a set of questions with 15 minutes to discuss each.
To start off this event, the club discussed whether or not campus life will be restored to what it previously was before the pandemic. Another VP Events Vella Kim jumped in to talk about how there are a lot of valuable things we have learned from an online environment that might possibly stick for future years.
“Things like club meetings or office hours, we’ve learned that we don’t really have to be there physically for us to communicate,” said Kim. “So I think those aspects of online school right now might stay even if we do go back to school.”
The members went on to debate whether or not online learning is effective or not. While some members believed that online schooling could be effective, VP Events Farabi Hasan discussed how not everyone is experiencing this change in the same way.
“Some people are really thriving right now, but other people are really struggling and they want in-person [learning] really badly,” said Hasan. “I know many people where it’s come to the point where they’re considering taking a gap year or year off because of online classes.”
Awareness about the fact that online classes may be a possible option for students even after the end of the pandemic was raised by the president of the club Chaten Jessel. He mentioned how there have been positive outcomes from online learning such as flexible learning hours and being in the comfort of your own home.
“Even if classes are back in person, there’s no way classes can only be in-person,” said Jessel. “I feel like there will have to be some sort of accommodations for people who do want to do online learning.”
The club touched on an important issue — mental health. With online learning, the university has made huge efforts to provide students with resources and information regarding mental health, as this change in environment has been very difficult for a lot of students. Kim wishes to see this emphasis on mental health continue even after the pandemic.
“I’m thinking back before COVID, and I feel like those were the kinds of talks that weren’t very common. And now so many people are talking about mental health and reaching out for help,” said Kim. “I hope that part stays.”
An important note was made on how illness will be taken more seriously in the future because of the pandemic. Ghebreyohanne explained, “If you think about it, it used to be normal to go to work sick.” She added how the expectation of someone to go to work or school while ill will not be something that many people will agree with.
The club went on to tackle the stigma behind masks considering Alberta’s frequent anti-mask protests. Although the club believes that masks are effective, there was some debate on whether the use of masks when someone is sick and has to be in a public setting will continue to be common after the pandemic is over. Jessel expressed how he doubts that people will wear masks, but he still has hope.
“There’s so much stigma around wearing a mask,” he said. “Of course I hope that people, when they’re sick and have to come into work, do wear a mask.”
VP Events David Chau had a lot to say on the question of whether or not COVID has impacted students’ quality of education since implementing online classes. He acknowledges the fact that for some students online learning can be a great experience, but he feels that his education value is not the same.
“Education sucks now, I’m not going to lie. For me at least, this year has been for sure the worst year that I’ve had in university so far and I’m in third year now. Part of it is I don’t like the teaching style with a bunch of assignments every week and going to lectures online when I don’t have any motivation to attend those lectures,” he explains. “It’s not that enjoyable for me if I don’t get to interact with people. For me that was a huge part of why I enjoyed university, it was like a way to get away from mundane life, but now I just have that plus a huge workload and no motivation.”
VP External May Domingo touched on how online learning at first felt like the ideal way to go about education in a COVID setting but later found that the flexibility of going to classes and completing assignments resulted in her having an enormous workload that had been constantly pushed back.
“I know [professors] are doing their best, but all these assignments, additional exams and quizzes just to counteract the cheating that might occur online is really doing nothing but stressing students out and doesn’t benefit our quality of education,” said Domingo. “And when I analyze the quality of education you can tell if a professor is succeeding in teaching online or not based on their delivery.”
To finish off the discussion, Jessel made note that professors are also still learning to adapt to this new environment of online learning.
“Even with all the negatives, [professors] are struggling just the same way that we are. Of course, they’re being paid to do this, and we’re paying to experience this, which is important, the power dynamic there but, they’re still struggling, they’re still people,” he concludes.
Overall, the club highlighted some of the important issues regarding online learning as a result of the pandemic, and how although this past year has not been everyone’s favourite, there are still some valuable experiences and lessons we’ve learned along the way that we can carry into the future even after the end of the pandemic.
The UCalgary TEDx club’s next event will take place on March 26 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. For more information on the club and future events visit their instagram, and to register to become a club member fill out their member registration form.