When 90 per cent of undergraduate classes are online, how are we expected to socialize?
Last year, if someone told me I was going to be attending lectures from the comfort of my own home, I would have been ecstatic. It would have seemed like a dream to wake up five minutes before class starts, open up my laptop, and be in my lecture. However, like many things, online school seemed much sweeter when it wasn’t the only option.
At the end of the second term in spring 2020, university instruction was frantically transferred online, which made it difficult to juggle a full course load. It became complicated to keep track of my classes since each one had a different delivery mode and assignment submission guidelines.
Similarly, there were different ways to post and collect assignments; either through CourseSpaces or emailing them directly to the professor. I was already familiar with UVic’s online systems, but some students in my classes, mostly those newer to UVic, struggled to navigate these changes.
Moving forward into the fall 2020 semester, I expect the most difficult change for this year’s students will be the immediate removal of almost all social interactions at the university. The transition to online learning has cut out the ability to spark up conversation with the person sitting next to you on the first day of class, with hopes of eventually forming a mutualistic relationship of note sharing for the semester.
Luckily, having taken in-person classes for the first few months of second semester, I have made acquaintances with a couple of people at UVic. Having these people around always made class material more enjoyable. We shared notes, ideas, and different perspectives on our readings.
When I took my first two fully online courses in May and June,it became shockingly apparent that I would not be able to make friends or compare notes with the blank screen next to mine in the zoom lecture.
After speaking with a couple of my friends who attend different universities, we have shared two main ways to cope with this sudden wedge driven into the social aspect of classes. First, you could take the initiative to make a Facebook group on the first day of classes and leave a message in the Zoom comment section. That way, people have the option to join and meet others in the class. The second, and slightly more forward option, is to find someone who is in more than one of your classes and message them privately on social media. I believe that if school continues to be online, this will be one of the few ways to connect with fellow classmates.
I feel that the largest issue with online classes is not trying to keep track of each one or justifying the cost, but rather the loss of community that UVic is likely to suffer. The best part about being on campus is how easy it is to meet new people and connect with fellow classmates. Online lectures make it near impossible to get to know new people, which is an issue that the University should take action to combat.
Building an online community is difficult, however, it is one of the only ways that UVic can help students feel involved in the school beyond just academics. Having a prominent online presence through both the school websites and social media would make all the difference. Posting about school events that students can stream from home, or creating buzz around the UVSS website to point students in ways they can get involved would allow for both new and upper year students to have a clear direction of ways to build university relationships from home.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult and trying time for all. Many things have had to be restructured in order to keep everyone as safe as possible, including school. One thing I have learned throughout these unprecedented times is that it is easier when you feel like you are not alone. In order to keep its great sense of community, it is essential that UVic makes online learning as social as possible.