Walking out of this pandemic like a real champion

Five lessons from sports to gain mental stamina under COVID-19

Walking out of this pandemic like a real champion

Since the COVID-19 pandemic first forced us into physical distancing, there has been a plethora of information on the internet about how to stay fit and busy under such circumstances. Suddenly, Instagram feeds are filled with more live-streamed workout classes and baking tutorials than ever.

For some, the pressure to be productive at home can be overwhelming, so here are some tips on how to fight the COVID-19 blues.

1. Get your head in the game

Ask any athlete and they will tell you that it takes a single-minded goal to achieve superhuman accomplishments. In this sense, physical distancing is not too different from the world of sports. Be it for health reasons, to deal with grief, or simply because it’s your passion, physical exercise is usually motivated by a larger purpose and goal. 

Feeling frustrated with being stuck at home? Try to remember that you are doing this for the sole purpose of saving lives. Focus is driven by a clear purpose, and it’s easy to forget the significance of our individual actions in the grand scheme of the pandemic.

2. Be a good teammate 

According to an article written by Professor Aisha S. Ahmad of the Department of Political Science, we should make a plan for social connectedness. While maintaining safety guidelines from the public health authorities, identify your crisis team members by reaching out to friends, family, and other people in your community. To Ahmad, “the best way to build a team is to be a good teammate.” 

You can be the real MVP by offering assistance to those in need, fostering good communication, and inspiring your teammates. Check in with your risk-group neighbours, and ask if you can buy groceries for them. Talk to your loved ones about your feelings, and be a good listener by letting them do the same. Encourage your friends to engage in positive thinking whenever you can. 

I know that creating a strong support network reassures me that people are looking out for me in these uncertain times.

3. Celebrate small victories 

Adapting to a life of physical distancing is a similar learning experience to training for a long-distance run. At first, your lungs will feel like they’re going to collapse after the first two miles, but the key to adaptation is to set small goals for yourself that become more difficult over time. Celebrate every mile you can run further until you’re able to fulfill your greater challenges. 

Ahmad’s article also tells us to first focus on more attainable goals when developing a routine. Celebrate small victories like maintaining a regular sleep schedule, cooking a healthy meal, or finding the motivation to read a book. Once you find a comfortable system, it should be easier to dedicate yourself to summer school or other necessary tasks in your life.

4. Learn to lose 

It’s easy to link sports to resilience. In this pandemic, we have lost opportunities and time with the people we care about. It’s hard to cope with these losses if you don’t give yourself time to comprehend them. Instead, it feels like we have to pack our days with activities because of the social and internal pressure to be productive right now. It helps if you remind yourself that it’s okay if you’re not at the top of your game during a global health crisis.

5. Picture the finish line 

Some countries, like Denmark, are already steadily walking out of lockdown. For some of us, there still might be a long way to go. When you’re on a six-mile run, and you realize that you’ve already covered three miles, that’s when you motivate yourself the most to reach the finish line. It’s the switch between a moment of extreme fatigue to a sudden spike of energy that helps you keep going. Use all the optimistic, positive energy you can!

At-home experiments and virtual labs: how U of T moved lab courses online due to COVID-19

Faculty, teaching assistants speak about successes, challenges of teaching a lab course remotely

At-home experiments and virtual labs: how U of T moved lab courses online due to COVID-19

Effective March 16, the University of Toronto cancelled all in-person undergraduate courses across its three campuses and moved to remote learning. This resulted in instructors scrambling to implement different teaching methods and shift to online teaching, which begs the question: how did U of T handle moving its lab courses online?

After all, culturing E. coli and organic synthesis can’t be done from the comfort of our often cramped homes. The Varsity contacted professors, teaching assistants (TAs), and deans to find out the innovations and challenges that COVID-19 closures brought about in courses on different campuses. 

Virtual labs 

Although most labs in courses offered by the Department of Chemistry were cancelled, Dr. Charlie Kivi, the lab coordinator for CHM151 — Chemistry: The Molecular Science, a first-year course at UTSG, opted to hold virtual labs.

Kivi used Quercus quizzes to distribute random data sets to each student from a data bank that he uploaded. Students then used their sample data to complete their lab reports, and the grading scheme was changed to reflect these predetermined results. Furthermore, Kivi noted that this shifted emphasis on writing was sensible, as it’s part of the Writing-Integrated Teaching (WIT) program.

“I chose to do this to ensure that students get feedback on their writing before heading into second year… With everything else going on this year I wanted to make sure that our students got the best start they could have for next year.”

Melanie Woodin, Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, echoed this sentiment in an email to The Varsity. “Lab work and learning is not all physical – there are always a lot of key tasks involving analysis, data mining, discussion and deliberation etc. It’s not ideal but I have heard from faculty members and students that by and large the online tools and resources available are working for them to stay connected.”

Shedding light on the challenges with making these changes, Kivi wrote: “It took some trial and error to get things working on Quercus but it all came together in the end. I am very fortunate that I had excellent TAs to lean on and the Quercus help team was invaluable in getting my random data quiz banks to actually work as intended under tight time constraints.” 

Urine analysis in your bathroom and heart-rate measurements in the backyard

At UTSC, Dr. Jason Brown teaches BIOB32 — Animal Physiology Laboratory, in which the lab component is worth 50 per cent of the grade. To fulfill this requirement, students had three at-home experiments to complete. Two of these experiments were similar to what students would have done on campus and they were graded using the same standard as those for in-person labs.

For instance, a urine analysis experiment in the lab was replaced by an at-home experiment that involved students drinking different beverages — such as coffee and saltwater — and measuring their urine output. Students were able to conduct experiments using themselves as subjects, and collecting and analyzing real data.

Brown wrote to The Varsity, “In fact, I think my new ‘at-home’ experiment is even more thoughtfully-designed than the original experiment! So, in my opinion, students in BIOB32 are still getting the same experience they would have received via in-person labs. And they are still analyzing and thinking about data, which is a fundamental lab/research skill!”

“​One student emailed me [to] express her gratitude for the ‘at-home’ experiments,” he continued. “She appreciated that the course was not changing in any radical way.”

However, Brown noted that these experiments were time-consuming to create: “it’s the time that it takes to write up these assignments so that students will be able to execute them without the usual supports.”

Overcoming challenges of remote lab-based courses

In another UTSC lab, Dr. Adam Mott taught BIOB12 — Cell and Molecular Biology Laboratory. As the lab component is central to all assessments, the course had a more challenging time transitioning to online learning.

“The biggest challenge was time,” Mott wrote. “We have many students in different time-zones, and in quarantine, with connectivity issues, and everyone is under tremendous stress right now.”

“A lot of my time has been spent just emailing students and addressing concerns completely outside of teaching the course. I wish [there] was more time to do all that, while doing more to expand the online offerings, [and] also managing to shut down my lab and support my staff and graduate students!”

Mott moved his lectures and quizzes online using the support of other faculty members and resources provided by U of T. He uploaded videos demonstrating the techniques, as well as data from a previous year so that students could complete their lab reports.

However, he lamented that students would be unable to get hands-on experience with cell and molecular biology techniques in the lab.

“There is no replacement for actually doing the experiment yourself… making mistakes and learning how to correct them is often the way we learn best in the lab,” he wrote.

The Varsity also interviewed Aparna Haldar, a TA for the same course who experienced challenges with communicating solely through Microsoft PowerPoints and emails. “These changes definitely took some getting used to, since I was used to explaining myself in the lab. I could also answer questions as they arose from students, and receive instant feedback. It has been difficult to not receive instant feedback and anticipate questions that students might have.” 

All instructors expressed that they were grateful for the understanding students and supportive colleagues in these unprecedented times. As Kivi wrote: “On the off chance any [students] read this, thank you. It’s not exactly how I planned to end the semester but hey, we all made it work in the end.”