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‘More negative than positive’

With some students excelling and some falling behind,
what are the reviews for online learning?

While open during the day, MacEwan’s seating restrictions haunt the school.  (Cole Buhler)

By Andy Trussler

AS COVID-19’s FIRST ANNIVERSARY approaches, Alberta University students embark on their third semester online. For MacEwan students and staff, the transition is a divisive issue.

Provincial safety regulations require Alberta Universities to maintain online and distanced classes. To many students, the demands of online learning is too taxing; to others, the virtual university gives them the freedom to learn on their schedule.

For Zachary Borutski, a 28-year-old professional communications student, the most challenging adjustment is self-sufficiency.

“I think what’s changed the most is the fact that I’ve become sort of resigned to the fact that I’ll have to become a lot more independent,” Borutski said. “I have to figure things out for myself, since the support structures just aren’t there.”

An engagement and motivation shortage seems the most persistent issue for online learners. Without in-person support, Borutski and others say they feel alone in their university experience.

“I just wish there would be some opportunities for us to get more instant help when we need it.”

‘I have to figure things out for myself,
sine the support structures just aren’t there’

Bailey Stefan, 22, a third-year journalism major, sympathized with Borutski’s struggle – a struggle Stefan and her friends face.

“The majority of my friends have struggled immensely with the online format,” she said. “Because I rely on scholarships, I couldn’t drop any classes down to even though I wish I was able to.

“A couple of friends had to drop classes because it was too difficult to balance everything, and so they won’t be able to graduate at their expected time any more.

“Overall, I think the experience of students has been more negative than positive.”

Some MacEwan students, however, say they prefer the online experience.

Professional communications major Julia Magsombol, 19, says she has acclimated well to Internet learning. The move to online means students like Magsombol no longer need to rely on public transit to attend class.

“I live in West Edmonton, and it is always hard for me to go to school every day. My travel time would always end up at least an hour just to get to school, not to mention how I missed some of my classes or always arrive late since I am just too tired and stressed to go to school.

“I think that online learning offered a lot of benefits to many students, especially when it comes to taking care of their health.”

‘I cannot tell a lie.
I get more work done’

Stefan says she also appreciates the benefits of studying online – and the comfort of home.

“Surprisingly, my grades actually improved this last semester and I even had two projects recognized by the University, one was preserved by MacEwan for excellence, the other was featured on their website.

“I think because, since I wasn’t commuting to classes by late October-ish, I figured out how to balance work-relaxation time being at home.”

Stringent COVID-19 guidelines guarantee the bustle of school is no more.  (Cole Buhler)

Like the students they serve, MacEwan’s administrative staff must manage university affairs online. Salvatrice “Salli” Bruno, an administrative assistant, has been  working virtually since March 2020.

“I cannot tell a lie,” she said. “I get more work done. My workload, I believe, has improved. There aren’t the constant interruptions of passers-by. I had a sign that said, ‘You have five minutes of my time.’ Well, five times 100 – I hate math, but you get the point.”

Regardless of opinion, and until vaccine distribution, MacEwan staff and students alike will continue education online. Routine improvements will be made to the online format, but those struggling to adjust can only wait.

“If I could do mornings at home and afternoons in the office, I mean, who knows?” Bruno said. “Who knows what the world will be in the future? It’s more of a “take-it-as-it-comes” thing.

“You feel so unstable in the knowledge of: What’s the timeline of when the general population will get their vaccines? And if there’s a timeline for that – is there a timeline for when people can actually go back to work safely?

“I think things are going to change. I really do. I can’t say I know what’s going to happen day-to-day, hour-to-hour, but I foresee a future of a very hybrid life. I’m all for it.”

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