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The pros and cons of online learning

Where has the time gone? It has been more than two months since online classes began at Dalhousie University and this experience has brought many challenges. For Dal students in Halifax, across the country and around the world, distance learning has been a learning curve. 

 Time-consuming process 

The stress of online learning has been yet another horrible part of 2020 for many university students, but what can be done about it? (Photo by Geoffrey Howard)

Personally, one of the worst things about remote learning is the insane amount of time I spend staring at a computer screen. Almost everything I do is online. This includes work meetings, classes, assignments, exams, readings and so on. All in all, I end up spending more than 10 hours a day on the computer. 

Staring at a screen for long periods is exhausting and it affects my sleep, especially if I have to stay up late for an assignment. But the worst feeling comes after a long day on my computer knowing I must spend more hours online the next day. This is a sad reality. I’ve also felt an increased amount of course work in my own classes, like weekly quizzes on top of assignments and projects. 

There are also communication barriers in an online environment due to delayed email responses and time difference issues This means I actually end up spending a lot of time on the computer without seeing any tangible progress. Thus, taking a full course load online has been incredibly demanding.  

The stress of working in groups 

Another thing I find about online learning is how much more difficult it is to get seemingly basic tasks done. Randomly assigned groups have become the bane of my semester. For some of my courses, my teammates took more than half the assigned time to set a date on when we would meet online. In other case, my group members were unable to get on a call to discuss things and preferred to exchange long messages over the content of the project. Sometimes, even after a long exchange of messages, we end up with different views of what the final work will look like.  

“Randomly assigned groups have become the bane of my semester.” 

All this is exacerbated by language barriers and the sometimes unclear instructions provided by professors. Getting started on the right foot has been my greatest challenge when working with a randomly assigned group and has caused a lot stress in this remote environment.  

 Intrinsic motivation 

In normal circumstances, it was easy to find external sources of motivation and positivity, like going to a bar, meeting friends and getting involved with societies. However, it is not always easy to find those sources in a remote environment.  It is easy to feel overworked and stressed all day. Positivity and motivation are important in a remote environment because students are required to be self-motivated and put in a greater individual effort to do well. 

I personally enjoy reading novels before going to bed. This habit is not always easy to accomplish, but I found it leads to more productive days and better mental health.  

Building healthier relationships with technology 

Another positive thing that has come from overusing technology has been the need to create healthier relationships with technology. I feel more appreciative of the real world around me and treasure every minute I get to spend in the real world. While this helped my motivation, it also forced me to reconsider how I interact with technology and social media in a healthy way. Some things that I have done include uninstalling all my social media accounts, setting timers for my screen time and not using devices for  two hours before I go to bed.  

Two sides to every coin 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues around the world, it looks like this new normal is going to be our reality for a while. Overall, distance learning has been tough. I feel tired, overworked and have little ways to release stress. Yet, the pandemic has given me the chance to re-evaluate my relationship with social media. Additionally, having a productive daily routine makes long days seem bearable. Setting such guidelines has been necessary for better sleep and my overall mental health. 

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