While I had my reservations about starting another semester online, I was hopeful that the increased flexibility of remote learning would allow me to pace my learning and simultaneously give me more time to work on personal projects.
However, we’re now eight weeks into the semester and I feel more physically and mentally exhausted than I ever have before. I am currently working as a teaching assistant in the biology department and as a peer advisor with the International Education Centre — all while taking a full course load.
The lack of support and communication from my courses has created an increasingly stressful workload. While working responsibilities were usually manageable during in-person classes, the online environment has made it more challenging to efficiently organize my time. I’ve found that online learning requires extra work to reach out to professors for support, especially in asynchronous courses.
To increase accountability during online instruction, professors have drastically altered course assessments. Two out of my five classes require me to watch asynchronous lecture videos before synchronous lectures, which increases the amount of time I spend in class.
For another course, while the lecture videos are posted after the lecture, I only have 48 hours to watch them before the graded participation assignment detailed in the lecture video is due. Thus, even though recording lectures increases accessibility for people in alternate time zones, flexibility is limited for people who work during the week and can only watch the videos during the weekends.
Time management has become essential for balancing school and work responsibilities. The importance of setting realistic schedules and incorporating mental breaks to avoid burnout cannot be understated. However, in this online environment, it is harder to find opportunities for self-care when there is no time for it.
In-person learning offered mental reprieve through extracurricular activities, walks to class, and social interaction with classmates. However, with both work and school moved online, there are few avenues that allow rest. After a long day of staring at a screen, there is little motivation to digitally communicate with friends and family, or indulge in episodes of your favourite show on Netflix.
I have found that most support that I have received has been from my employers, taking my flexibility and availability into consideration when assigning tasks. I believe that the flexibility I receive through work stems partly from the constant communication between me and my supervisors.
I can express my concerns and set realistic deadlines for work-related projects. Opposingly, with many online courses shifting to asynchronous delivery, it is difficult to communicate with professors in a timely manner.
While online learning can improve productivity by reducing the amount of time students spend in transit, it is important to note that not every home is conducive to learning. Professors need to integrate opportunities for student feedback over the course of the semester. Furthermore, professors need to integrate more flexibility in assignment deadlines and make amendments to late submission penalties.
Experts have suggested that many aspects of life will remain virtual even after a vaccine has been approved. Thus, there is a need for constant improvement in communication between students and professors if we are to preserve the mental health of students.
Ashley Mutasa is a third-year neuroscience and statistics student at UTM.