The positive and negatives of online learning for first year students

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Photo by Darien Funk

Due to the current state of our country, post-secondary learning has been moved exclusively to online platforms. Some of us got a taste of it in the spring, but how exactly will Laurier’s first year students adapt to the university lifestyle through their laptops?

It will be a different year for all of us — by no means ideal — but it’s hard not to feel for those who are starting fresh. Those who have no idea what it means to be a Golden Hawk outside of their acceptance letters.

I won’t deny there are some silver linings. But with all the positives that come with never having to leave your bed, there are just as many negatives that follow for those who are looking for their first taste of university.

No embarrassing O-Week welcomings

Although the intent is sweet, they hurt to watch. I was never a part of one during my first year but personally, I couldn’t think of anything more distressing than a loud, attention-drawing welcoming from your academic predecessors — all in front of your already excited parents.

It’s possible I’m projecting my own anxieties here but I doubt first years will miss this perplexing tradition.

No commute

Anyone who’s ever taken the bus to or from Laurier at rush hour during the heart of winter will tell you they’re more than happy to attend classes in their briefs. 

Thanks to the cumulative traffic between Waterloo and Laurier, by the time the buses hit campus they’re usually already close to capacity.

For those who drive, it’s not like you’d find a parking spot anyways. And for the many who planned on walking, although you may be sacrificing your daily step count, you won’t miss turning your ankle at the icy crosswalk in front of Laz.

No reason not to go to class

Regardless of the predictable limitations that come with online learning, students have no excuse not to ‘show up’ to class. In fact, for those who struggle to get out the door before an early morning lecture, online learning may be a convenience.

No unreliable bus schedule to throw the blame at. No hangover keeping you bedridden because now, class is in bed. No frigid blizzard as a deterrent—you can’t get eczema from a laptop.

Lack of social community

It’s hard enough to make friends during your first year of university. I can’t imagine how students are expected to do it over the internet.

There’s dozens of little intricacies lost within the social interactions of Zoom. I made only one friend in my first year at Laurier, a relationship that was sparked solely over passing prepubescent notes in the back of class.

But I’d like to be optimistic about it. I think with every new year of acceptees, students become increasingly innovative in how they decide to communicate. 

The majority of millennial connections happen through their phones anyways. It’s quite possible Laurier’s new students transition without even a hiccup.

Loss of the ‘university experience”

As distressing as it may be to walk through the halls, the quad and the campus at Laurier during your first few weeks, it’s also exciting. Your body quivering with anxiety, still trying to piece together where exactly you fit within the community that’s already accepted you as one of their own.

Meeting new people whose names you’ll never remember. Discovering which washrooms on campus garner the least foot traffic. Realizing for the fifteenth time that you don’t need anyone’s permission to take a leak.

Only a few of the wonderful little intricacies first year students will miss in their entirety. Without the diligent following of regulations put forth by the government in regards to COVID-19, these students may never experience the beauty of Laurier as the many generations before them have.

As a first year, there’s some things none of us can tell you — things you need to discover on your own. You craft your own experience, running an internal diagnostic of the campus in an effort to make your affair at Laurier as thrilling and painless as possible.

“It’s just different,” said Sydney Austin, a first-year psychology major at Laurier. “I’m still excited to start classes and interact with people in my program, even if that interaction happens remotely.”

“I think the main positive about online learning is that it’s happening at all,” Austin elaborates. “I’m so thankful that I’m able to continue to learn and progress in my degree during a worldwide pandemic.”

I think for everyone—not just first years—the fall semester will be a challenge. Not only in regards to academics but also for our drive to communicate, our biological need to socialize. We miss our campus, our classes, our commute and most importantly, we miss each other.

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