Taylor Chalker
Taylor Chalker
Entertainment Marketing graduate from the Toronto Film School, and first-year Arts student at UNB.
February 26, 2021

Gaining Perspective on Online Learning at UNB

Associate Professor Matthew Sears | Photo provided by Matthew Sears

On October 5, President Mazerolle announced that the winter semester at UNB would be delivered in a blended learning method, meaning that a majority of classes would be online. This announcement yielded varying responses from students and staff, yet most agree that this is the best possible option under COVID restrictions. 

Matt Douglas, a fourth-year biology student, expressed frustration at the changes that students are being made to adapt to, while appreciating the work that professors are putting into the alternate delivery. 

“I find myself and many others are spending hours and hours in our rooms every day, watching lectures and doing homework,” Douglas said. “...Studying outside the house isn’t super easy either, as seemingly everywhere closes between 4-8 p.m., and each place comes with their own set of restrictions.”

Douglas feels that, in addition to the added pressure on students coping with online learning, there is additional stress on their shoulders stemming from the global pandemic. 

“The increasing monotony can really get to you,” he explained, recognizing that the mental exhaustion of the pandemic can lead to a lack of interest in school work. 

As a fourth-year bio student, Douglas has one in-person lab that he attends. He enjoys the in-person component, and feels that it is beneficial for his learning. This lab gives him, and his classmates, the opportunity to have real-time conversations with teaching assistants, and ask questions that may not come up in an online format. 

“[In-person learning] makes the learning process much smoother and more approachable,” he explained.

Brittney Spires, a third-year psychology student in the Faculty of Science, has been feeling immense stress when dealing with online learning. She does not have any in-person classes, and the majority of her classes are asynchronous, with some live classes being held once a week. 

“It’s been really stressful for me because I have a hard time with time management and self discipline… I find it hard to stay on top of things and remember what needs to be done and when,” Spires explained. “I’m scared I’m going to fail this year honestly.”

Spires feels that, with the upcoming winter semester also being online, professors should make an effort to have individual meetings with students when possible. One of her professors, in the Earth Science department, had one-on-one conversations with students prior to the commencement of the course, which Spires felt benefitted her greatly. 

“It made me feel like she actually knew who I was, and was on my side through the course! Her course is the only one that I feel responsible for and I think it’s because she did that,” she explained.

Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient History, Matthew Sears, is satisfied with the progression of his online classes, and places importance on the use of Desire2Learn for professors. He uses this resource for its discussion forum, and finds it extremely helpful for garnering higher participation numbers. 

“I think there's a higher level, and a greater level of participation, than there might be in an in-person discussion. Students who might be nervous to speak out in a class of 50 people seem to be more able to do so in print. Also, the answer seems to be more thoughtful and careful because they have time to think about what they're going to say,” Professor Sears explained. 

In addition to the contribution of Desire2Learn, Professor Sears also cited smaller class sizes as a reason why he is experiencing success with his courses. Some courses that he teaches are small enrollment language courses, and he has found that Microsoft Teams experiences less connectivity issues when less people are in the virtual classroom. 

To accommodate students, he aims to be more flexible with deliverables such as due dates, synchronous lectures, and the final exam. This semester, he is allowing students in his upper-level Roman History course to write a final paper in place of a final exam, to ease some stress. 

Professor Sears explained that, at least in his department, he has felt great support as educators learn how to navigate this new learning environment, while also being encouraged to take care of his own mental health. 

“I have found that department chairs, and my own Dean, have all been very open about the fact that these are strange times, and offering their help if we need to reach out and talk to them,” he explained. “...We still need to take time away from the computer screen, and from [Microsoft] Teams and Zoom. I feel like the community is coming together to offer support in that way, both formal support and informal support.”

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