MICHAEL PIRILLO / THE SPUTNIK PHOTOGRAPHY
As we make our way through another online midterm season, I’m realizing just how little I have learned since last March.
This time last year, I was fully engaged in most of my courses, was managing my workload, and was having a positive educational experience despite some midterm-induced stress.
For the second term in a row, I am once again cramming for evaluations with material I have failed to engage with in any meaningful way all semester.
I think most of us can agree that while we have struggled during semesters past, these online classes have been quite brutal. Despite the consensus that online classes have marked a significantly worse educational experience all around, we have yet to see any decrease in tuition costs whatsoever.
The argument against decreasing our tuition is that; while students are certainly missing out on the “typical university experience,” they were expecting tuition costs to cover expenses on the academic side of things, curriculum, instructors, supports, etc. Which have not been minimized in the transition to an online environment.
On the other side of that argument, I have never felt like I have been getting less out of my education than I have this past year. With the money we are all paying, Laurier and other traditional universities have missed the mark big time on providing value in an online environment.
There is hardly anything about the current educational experience that is similar to how it was a year ago, yet course structures and requirements have barely changed at all.
Out of the ten classes I have taken throughout this past year, only two of them adjusted their typical course syllabus to better suit these new circumstances. In the rest of my classes, most of our grades are still being determined by group projects and proctored exams, which, in my opinion, are the two most stressful and difficult things to navigate in an online environment.
MEME CREATED BY SHARNA EMRITH (PHOTO FROM KRISTIAN SEKULIC) / THE SPUTNIK PHOTOGRAPHY
For many of us, losing the sociability aspect of school and life in general has been the biggest loss we have experienced throughout this pandemic. One of the main reasons anyone might choose to physically attend a traditional university, despite the higher cost, is because it is hugely beneficial to meet and work alongside professors, alumni, and other students face-to-face.
Aside from the opportunities to take part in extracurriculars, developing networks is one of the only practical reasons I can think of for attending a brick-and-mortar university rather than earning a diploma online from websites like Udemy or Coursera.
In this climate, we are unable to make those connections and participate in extracurriculars anyway, I can’t help but ask: what are these traditional universities offering over online options like Udemy and Coursera that justifies the much higher cost?
At the risk of sounding too critical of Laurier and other brick-and-mortar schools, there is currently nothing about my experience that would not be better served at Coursera where courses and degrees are specifically designed to be delivered online by world-renowned institutions like Harvard, Duke, Google, and more.
For international students learning from different time zones, I can only imagine that a more flexible school schedule like those offered in Udemy’s online programs would be far more ideal than having to find an appropriate time to do group work when you’re 12 hours ahead of the rest of your colleagues.
Laurier’s choice not to lower tuition is one I can understand from a business perspective, but that is part of the problem: a university is a business. A business’ top priority is always to make money. I’m not criticizing this motivation but rather, the fact that the needs of students (their customers) are not properly being met while they pursue a profit.
I know the Laurier staff are trying their best to provide a decent experience despite these difficult circumstances. The last thing I would want to do is complain about the instructors and administration who are working tirelessly to make these crazy times as easy for us as possible.
Overall, the institution was just ill-equipped to adapt in such an extreme way.
At this point, we’re hopefully only a few more terms away from widespread vaccination and a go-ahead from the government to physically return to campus. But the point still stands, most universities did not adequately adjust course content and structure to better suit student needs.
I understand that these are extenuating circumstances, but if I’m sitting here wishing I deferred my second year because I feel as though I’ve taken my money and set it on fire … there must be something wrong with how these courses have been delivered.
For the sake of Laurier’s bottom line, I hope they are better prepared to adapt to extraordinary circumstances in the future.