We know that this past year has been a huge change for everyone all over the world, and education is one of the aspects of our lives that was drastically affected by COVID-19. In the face of these changes, there have been some things we have learnt about ourselves — and just life in general, that we wanted to share with you. Who knows, maybe you could also learn from them, or realize that other students have learnt similar lessons and that you are not alone.
- You need to be disciplined
The first and possibly most important thing I learnt attending school virtually is that I need discipline and structure. I had always thought of myself as a disciplined person, but studying virtually made me realize how much I appreciated structure in my life as a student. Being a naturally disciplined person, it was easy for me to adjust to online learning at first, but after a while, I started to experience a bit of fatigue. I realized that because I was still in auto-pilot mode and hadn’t made proper readjustments to account for virtual learning, it was affecting my studies and daily life. Not to mention my sleep pattern is currently in the bin. After Fall 2020, I was able to do some reflecting and develop better discipline and create a routine that made Winter 2021 easier. Navigating online learning hasn’t been too difficult since — and if I had learnt nothing else, this past year has made me grow more appreciation for structure and discipline.
- I didn’t need physical textbooks as much as I thought
Before online school, I was one of those students who couldn’t fathom using virtual textbooks or e-books — they just didn’t give the same satisfaction that physical textbooks did. E-books never made me feel as serious as physical textbooks did, whether it was just carrying them around rushing to my next class or studying with them in the library. It’s safe to say that I have since moved past that and have now grown a liking for e-books. If I’m being honest, albeit e-books do allow you to highlight and make comments as you read through, you still don’t get the complete satisfaction that physical textbooks give. To compensate for that, many e-books make it easier to search for and find whatever it is you are looking for. E-books are also cheaper than physical textbooks, and there’s the added benefit of being able to avoid backaches from carrying all those heavy textbooks in your bag.
- I wouldn’t mind having SOME of my classes online
I am grateful that in the face of COVID-19, the University of Calgary and many other schools around the world have been able to navigate their way around the situation using Zoom. However, if I never have to spend my entire semester at home again, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I will say though that even though I am not a big fan of Zoom classes, I wouldn’t mind having some of my classes over Zoom in the future — emphasis on some. I’ve always known that people take courses online, but it was during the pandemic that I attended my first set of online classes and it wasn’t a completely terrible experience. For many of us, I’m sure online classes helped to boost our GPAs and I am grateful for that. The added benefit of having recorded lectures — for some classes — that you can always refer back to was also a welcome change that I personally found helpful, and I hope it sticks around. While I’m not a fan of completely virtual classes, I would be fine if, say two out of five of my classes moving forward were held virtually.
- Physical student-student interaction is crucial for my well-being as a student
It wasn’t until the end of the Fall 2020 semester that I realized how much I missed hearing someone mutter a joke under their breath in class. I’m not a very outgoing or extroverted person, so I would usually only be able to make friends with people I sat around or people I was in teams or group projects with. It was always still nice to know that if I had a question or an issue, there was always someone right beside me that I could turn to for help. Now, unless there are group chats or Discord links, or unless you have friends in those classes, it’s harder to interact with classmates. I’m currently in a Spanish class and it’s killing me not knowing whether or not there’s a group chat that I should be a part of. If for nothing else, I’m really hoping that things with COVID-19 get better and Fall semester classes are in-person so I don’t have to stare at black screens with green rings around them again.
- Keeping a routine
Routines used to be second nature before COVID-19 — wake up, get on transit, buy coffee, go to class. With the onset of the pandemic, every daily practice I have grown accustomed to for the past two years of undergrad has withered away. Most especially, it was difficult to drag me out of bed for morning classes. If it was not for me dropping my sibling off at school at 8:30 a.m., I would have found it almost impossible to attend my morning virtual lectures. Thankfully, this little habit eventually grew on me and before I knew it, this too was almost second nature. Once I had conquered the challenge of getting out of bed, everything eventually fell into place – caffeinated by 9:30 a.m. and all ready for my live Zoom class at 10 a.m. With this efficient little practice, I have managed to get the majority of my to-do list done before the afternoon. Although I did not realize it then, keeping a routine was indeed what saved me from having to pull too many all-nighters throughout the semester. However, it is also important to remember that routines cannot work unless discipline is applied. Since we all work differently, I highly suggest figuring out what time of day you think you are most productive so that you can carefully curate a daily routine that is most efficient for you.
- Cultivating a tidy and curated study space
Without access to my favourite study nook — the TFDL — it took a little while for me to adapt to studying at home. Recently, I have discovered that it is a lot easier for me to focus with very minimal things on my desk — no chaotic piles of papers, random clutter, or even multiple sticky notes with motivational messages on them (it’s better to have only one or two inspirational quotes that REALLY speaks to you and gets you working). I find that curating my study space has also helped stabilize stress and improve the overall state of my mental health, even when I have several things listed on my agenda and a gazillion tabs open on my laptop.
- It’s okay to step away from your desk and unwind
Working from home can cause us to develop the mindset that we need to be productive every hour of every day. I can’t even count how many times I thought I was undeserving of some rest, thinking I can’t be that tired since our virtual situation has already saved me from having to pace with the transit hours. So, I should just keep working while I can, right? Absolutely not.
Denying yourself access to little luxuries such as taking a nap, having a rest day or logging off early and calling it a day, can only cost you in the future. Pushing yourself to your limits can sometimes be more detrimental than beneficial– and once finals season approaches and you need all the energy you could possibly muster, you will wish you had taken advantage of those liberties. While it is important to be pragmatic about our productivity levels, it is just as important to realistically acknowledge when we need to rest and pause. So, if you ever find yourself debating whether or not you should spend some time away from your workspace, chances are you should.
- Making the most out of our remote situation
Let’s face it — most of us would rather be on campus chattering away with our friends in the hallways as we head to class. Unfortunately, social interaction is one of those simple pleasures that COVID-19 has taken away from us. Luckily, however, we live in a time where technology allows us to interact with our peers virtually. I have never been more involved in school clubs and extracurricular activities than I had been this past academic year. Between my full academic workload and my 90-minute transit commute, it was usually difficult for me to attend club events that are typically scheduled later in the afternoons. With the virtual setting, I was able to partake in more events than I previously had time for, which allowed me to socialize and meet new people. In addition, the remote events also helped lessen my social anxiety, enabling me to be more confident in participating in group discussions and talking to people. Although I would rather be on campus, it is safe to say that online school allowed me to do things that I would otherwise not have time for.
Navigating the most trying academic year has taught us various lessons about ourselves and life in general. Fingers crossed we won’t have another virtual school year again, but if we do, here is a list that you can return to and hopefully pick up some valuable lessons from.