Is virtual school still school?

The social impacts of learning at a distance

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Back-to-school season can evoke specific memories. Memories of a community of people, of socialization, an avenue to network, deciding what to wear, how to get to the physical building and so on. At least this was the case before a pandemic struck this year. 

As a result, the fall semester at the University of Winnipeg is online, and projections suggest that the winter semester might just follow suit. School is being redefined. 

To begin, the immediacy of in-person classes has been replaced with makeshift online classes that occur through platforms that not everyone is familiar or comfortable with. This means longer hours on screens and more dependence on technology. 

This also means a lot of other things.

Turning in hardcopy assignments has now been replaced with submitting them in a dropbox or sending them in emails to instructors. Students will no longer randomly bump into each other in their department and say hi. Freshmen will not be able to physically explore their campus and find the student groups they would like to join. New international students who have not yet moved to Canada may find it difficult to connect with their peers. Even the Golden Key International Honour Society will not have an in-person welcome event this fall.

That is not all.

There is also the question of students’ ability to self-motivate. Students will have to decide to get up from bed in time for class and look presentable, because turning on their cameras in some classes might be part of the participation mark.

We might need to purchase coffee grounds, because Starbucks is no longer on our way to school. We might need to create a cooking timetable to prepare meals for different times of the day, as opposed to grabbing a meal from the cafeteria during lunchtime.

 The fact that students have paid for classes will likely be a huge motivator for many. For final-year students, proximity to graduation may also inspire them to endure the coming months.

It is indeed shaping up to be an interesting season.  

On the other hand, we could embrace the fact that these changes are encouraging us to improve our skills with technology. It could also be an opportunity to make good use of that extra time that schooling from home affords us.

The global lockdown has taught us that almost anything is possible from the confines of our homes. It is possible that we can do more than just survive this period. It is possible that we can thrive by getting comfortable and creative with the resources available to us.

Schooling from home is still school, though adjusted to a new normal. In the spirit of embracing technology, maybe we can start to think of it as an upgrade to the school “software” we used to know. 

Cheta D. Akaluka is a communications and sociology student who enjoys reading and writing as means of gaining and sharing experience, respectively.

Published in Volume 75, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 24, 2020)

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