Information overload: how Laurier’s first online semester has been overwhelming students

Photo by Darien funk

We’re only three weeks into the semester and I’m already overwhelmed. I don’t know about you but I’m just about ready to coast. 

It’s easy to blame these feelings on yourself. It could just be your incessant anxiety, your habits of procrastination or maybe even your binging of cigarettes and soft pretzels. Who knows?

But this might not be solely your fault. Believe it or not, these aren’t the same course loads we’ve grown accustomed to. They’re different and they’re flawed. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that some students might begin to struggle.

I have two major quandaries and I’m not entirely sure who to blame for either.

Zoom calls are designated for discussions rather than lecturing. Not a single live meeting—at least none of mine—have made the effort to teach this semester but rather decide to field opinions of the reading from the class.

Thanks to this, it can be discouraging to log in, knowing full well you’re a slow reader and can’t keep up with four or five full course loads worth of content. So you don’t. You forget about the reading, the discussions and do the bare minimum to keep your grade.

Each course and every professor goes about learning in dramatically different styles. In a way, that can be seen as one immediate limitation, one of the reasons students might feel overwhelmed. There is no fluidity from course to course. 

Courses require consistency. Of course it’s impossible to ensure replicable standards from class to class but during this frightening period of human existence, doesn’t seem to be the time to start posting lecture content through a podcast.

It creates chaos for students—especially those working with ADHD, learning disabilities or mental health conditions. Having to juggle nine different ideas at once, about five different areas of study can be completely anarchy for an already overwhelmed brain trying its best to remember the seven steps of Freytag’s Pyramid.

Doesn’t it make more sense to create a comprehensive, straightforward lesson plan for students already lost within asynchronous learning? 

Not only are students now expected to attend live classes from the discomfort of three-day-old boxer briefs—optional, of course—but now they’re also expected to watch an hour’s worth of recorded lectures, read fifty pages of dense textbook rambles—per class—and also pitch in to the course’s discussion board for that ever-so-important participation grade.

If you’re lucky, you might even have a weekly quiz to guess your way through. If not, have fun chipping away at that assignment you’ve been given a loose explanation of. Whatever a ‘microtheme’ is I will never know, and I’m guessing that’s exactly how my professor will see every single point I made throughout it.

It’s simply too much content to juggle all at once. Even for the most disciplined and scholarly of students, I wouldn’t be surprised if they too are struggling to keep everything straight. At best, it’s an information overload.

It seems as if professors are compensating for the lack of physical face- to- face discourse by providing students with the entire discography of the topic at hand. It was fun when The Beatles did it but it gets a little bland trying to learn all there is to know about technological determinism.

But I can’t throw all the blame on our professors. They’re trying their best—I would hope. They’re trying to be innovative and not only make this process easy on their students but also easy on themselves.

It’s just as hard on the educators as it is on those being educated. Sure, they’re leaning a little too heavily on course readings but they’re trying to figure this all out too.

I know I tend to rant and ramble but my point is don’t feel it’s your fault for not keeping up. By no means am I excusing you from putting in effort and getting your work done, just don’t give yourself such a hard time when you can’t. 

Prioritize self-care. Above all, do whatever it is you need to do to make sure you’re in your best possible state of mind. There’s no shame in taking a break, even if that break is the majority of your day.

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