A Tale of Two Students: Adapting to online learning

In the midst of this pandemic crisis, educators have been challenged to create meaningful and engaging online learning experiences for our students.  We do our best but we always wonder “What are those experiences in the eyes and hearts of our students?”.

Recently, I had the privilege of reading the reflections of some of my students on how they have adapted to online learning.  These reflections are from an assignment called a Reflective Learning Journal.  Students are asked to describe learning experiences they have had in the course that have developed a set of “core competency” skills. These skills include communication, critical thinking, problem solving, agility and adaptability. When this assignment is done well, students gain an awareness and understanding of their own thought processes; i.e. metacognition. I, as an educator, get an invaluable glimpse into the inner workings of their minds. 

Two of my students wrote about how they have adapted to online learning. When I read their reflections, I was struck by the depth of their insights. I think these insights are worth sharing. (Note: Both students very generously provided their consent for the use of their names and reflections in this blog.)

The two students, Alex and Winnie, are polar opposites in terms of their starting points. Alex described himself as being “rather computer literate” and having a love of “exploring and learning new programs and protocols”.   Winnie, on the other hand, said that the transition to online learning was not one that she welcomed and she described herself as “the kind of student who preferred hardcopy textbooks instead of online copies”.

I will let their unedited reflections speak for themselves. (Note: I have broken down the reflections into smaller paragraphs for better readability.)

ALEX I’m a firm believer that to do well in life, you need to be able to adapt to changing situations, and have the agility to keep up. With that said, nothing could be a better example than our switch from learning in-class to online because of COVID-19. No 2020-based self-reflection isn’t complete without acknowledging or even touching briefly on the global pandemic disease that’s changed all our lives currently. As such, the ability to adapt to a new situation and to be agile enough to keep up has been truly tested with our new online classes. 

I myself am rather computer literate; I spend far too much time on computers, and love exploring and learning new programs and protocols. With that in mind, I think the recent opportunity to learn WebEx and learn how our online classroom environment works has been not only fascinating, but incredibly beneficial. Since switching to WebEx, I’ve had to learn an entirely new program, which is great because I understand I’ll likely be using it in the future, but a switch to online classes like WebEx also help by throwing you into the deep-end of being adaptable. There wasn’t much time to learn, but I figured out WebEx fast; I wish others had done the same when they didn’t seem to know you could manually mute your mic! As well, having to quickly learn how the ‘Breakout Sessions’ worked and how the ‘whiteboard’ sessions worked was useful too, as we had a limited amount of time to get our answers in. 

But I digress, having to learn something unfamiliar and new quickly, gives you the opportunity to hone and advance those agility and adaptability skills. You can take your exploratory skills and experience with computers and try to figure out which each function does; such as realizing you can share your screen with your ‘Breakout Session’ members, or when I realized I had to unmute them so they could talk. Like the saying goes, you either sink or swim, and by having to learn a new piece of software in a few minutes, truly tests your skills, and helps you become more agile and a fast learner for the future.

WINNIE: I am sure that every student at Sheridan has experienced this and it may not be a uniquely personal experience, but I do believe it greatly challenged how I approach my own education. As a person who is a stickler for routine and not big on changing how I study or learn, the beginning transition onto an online learning platform in a home environment was not one that I welcomed. 

I strongly preferred an in-class teaching environment where I was able to respond the nuances of a classroom and while this may not be relevant, I am also the kind of student who preferred hardcopy textbooks instead of online copies. What I am trying to say is that I learn best by hands-on and tactical approaches and that learning through a screen is not something I like.

Although I know that all students and faculty face the same experience that I am, I do believe that it has changed how I react and adapt to these uncontrollable situations. While I am a usually quiet student in class, I did thoroughly enjoy how the in-class case discussions required us to work together as a group to figure out the solution. Its an approach that forced me to take a more hands-on approach in the classroom by participating but in an online environment, it is a little more difficult to adapt to since I am also working with new software and new people. In the virtual classroom, many people are muted, and the usual dynamics and nuances of an actual in-class discussion just can’t be replicated. 

But in the last few weeks, I changed my habits in order to adapt to this situation because I understood that being frustrated was not something that would help me. It challenged me to find a new way to approach how I would process information in this class and how I would collaborate with others without being face-to-face, but I believe that this experience has changed how I can adapt to unknown situations. After all, being flexible and adaptable is a skill that can benefit me in my career.

About Wayland Chau

Post-secondary educator involved in teaching and course design for face-to-face and online learning.
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