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UTM Campus Council report shows 68 per cent of students find online learning more challenging

Survey finds students experienced additional stressors, decreased income during fall 2020
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The UTM Campus Council chambers. HAYDEN MAK/THE VARSITY
The UTM Campus Council chambers. HAYDEN MAK/THE VARSITY

The UTM Campus Council met on May 19, discussing a presentation on the impact that online learning has had on students during the fall 2020 semester.

Alexandria Gillespie, current principal and vice-president of UTM, also went over what students discussed at a recent UTM town hall. 

Impact of online learning on students

Data on the impacts of online learning on student experiences, based on a survey of UTM students, was presented at the Campus Council meeting. 

The categories that were analyzed were the transition to online learning; students’ sense of support; support students received from course instructors; wellness & engagement; community building & students’ sense of belonging; and work & finance. 

In comparison to classroom-based learning, the data showed that the majority of surveyed students — 83 per cent — found that virtual learning has required them to put in more effort to stay focused. An entirely online learning environment has also been more challenging for 68 per cent of the respondents. While most said that they expend more effort on online learning, the majority also found professors’ expectations to be the same or lower in online courses than classroom-based learning. 

When asked about how much they learned in online courses as opposed to classroom-based ones, 44 per cent of the respondents said they learned less, while only 16 per cent reported that they learned more. Additionally, 40 per cent of respondents said that they learned almost the same amount during online courses. 

More than half of the students reported difficulty communicating with classmates and friends, or adjusting to the instruction style of online learning. In comparison, less than 50 per cent of the respondents faced difficulty finding a quiet space to work, reliable internet access, or sufficient access to a computer. 

The survey also asked respondents to choose up to three of their largest stressors at the time of the survey from a list. The most common stressor was mental and physical health, an option chosen by 67 per cent of respondents. The second and third most common stressors were online learning’s potential impacts on academic success and students’ ability to succeed in an online academic environment.

In terms of finances, 65 per cent of respondents reported experiencing unexpected increases in spending for technology like computers or wi-fi. Respondents also reported decreasing income, with 50 per cent reportedly anticipating a loss of wages and 48 per cent expecting a loss or reduction in income from other family members.

Report from the principal and vice-president

Gillespie spoke about the possibilities for post-pandemic life and what we can expect fall 2021 to look like on campus

She discussed the results of the student forum that was held at UTM where students talked about the UTM community and campus as a web of connections — one that can be both nourishing and healing — which the pandemic has taken away. Students also discussed the importance of health and safety on campus as well as transparency and flexibility from the administration in the upcoming year. 

Gillespie also expressed a need for transparency, especially around plans for fall 2021 and what the semester will look like. She expressed that UTM intends to communicate important decisions about the future of the campus to students.