Alex Trachsell, Staff Writer
With Thanksgiving approaching (although by the time you read this, it would have passed), I’ve been trying to take a glass half-full approach to online learning. Surely, this approach is needed to stay mentally healthy and productive as midterms approach and as the days grow shorter (I would have added “and colder,” but I haven’t left the house in three months, so I’m in no position to complain). That said, the positives are scarce, so I compiled a list of them to help me remember. I now share this list with you, to save you the mental strain of finding them for yourself.
1. No commute
The most obvious upside to online learning is not having to commute. Everyone knows what it feels like when midterm or exam season arrives and work starts piling up. (First year students might not have this exact experience, but it’s not like university students have a monopoly on being busy, as much as we would like to think so.) During these times, I would give my spleen to get an extra hour out of each day. Without a commute, I get an extra hour out of my day, and I get to keep my spleen. In fact, I could even buy a spare spleen by the end of the term using the transit money I’ll be saving. On the other hand, those of us who are working from home but would live in residence under normal circumstances are saving enough to buy more backup bone marrow than we could ever need.
2.Bad weather? Stay inside.
Regardless of whether one would normally have been commuting or living on residence, everyone would have had to commute between classes. Now, is it healthy for students to stretch our legs in between classes? Certainly. However, looking at this through a positive lens, online learning means that we won’t have to brave the cold in between classes. By the end of last February I had gotten tired of showing up for a class, thawing for an hour, and then leaving an hour later to do it all over again. Furthermore, students can still choose to exercise and let out some energy in between classes; we just won’t be forced to when it’s cold, wet, and windy outside.
3.Study in comfort
Lastly, and the most shameless of the benefits of online learning is the ability to complete an entire day’s worth of work while wearing pajama pants. Some may be worried that they might accidentally reveal their pajamas in a video call, but I think this would only make yourself look more relatable and down-to-earth. This is the new norm, and I’ve been enjoying it so much, I’ve considered not changing out of my pajama shirt and simply angling my camera to shoot me from the neck up. However, I quickly realized that this is a dangerous way of thinking once I began trying to convince myself that I could stop shaving if I angled my camera so it only catches me from the eyes up. Additionally, the Journal of Experimental Psychology published a study which found that people tend to be less productive when working in pajamas compared to working in more formal clothing, so lounge at your own risk. Oh, whoops. Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring in that negativity. To balance that out, here’s a study produced by the sublime University of Toronto that could suggest that people are more creative from home. Sorry again.
To me, the academic benefit of online learning is far greater than the practical benefits, despite me being able to find only one significant benefit: recorded lectures. Everyone knows how easy it is to miss information in lectures. Sometimes it takes a solid ten seconds of thinking to understand a concept, or maybe a family member asks you a question while you’re trying to listen. Either way, distractions like these can cause you to miss snippets of information which can be very difficult to find later. If you’re on a tight schedule, it can be tremendously helpful to quickly rewatch the part of the lecture at which you fell behind immediately after the lecture ends.
Alternatively, recorded lectures can help if you are using your notes to study for a test or write a paper and you come across something you don’t understand. In such a circumstance, one can easily rewatch the part of the lecture which your notes didn’t describe well and then continue working. Without recorded lectures, you would have to try to bother a friend for help or wait until you can attend office hours.
Some might say that recording lectures removes the pressure to quickly note down the lecture’s most important information — a pressure which improves students’ memorization and notetaking skills. However, students already face many other incentives to take concise notes. For example, a student who transcribes the entire lecture will probably find themselves running out of time to do other things, such as work on papers, study, read, eat, or sleep. Thus, students who use recorded lectures poorly will be incentivized to improve their habits while those of us who use them well will only serve to benefit.
Overall, then, recorded lectures are a fantastic tool that online learning has brought to the forefront. More than just a boon for lazy people (which, being honest, the other advantages effectively were), recorded lectures serve an important pedagogical role. They keep us going when we encounter a question and keep us up to date if we miss a lecture. In the end, it seems like recorded lectures are somewhat out of place in this article: they seem like an asset that will be sorely missed when in-person classes resume, rather than a product of my desperately optimistic outlook. Should they be a permanent feature of U of T lectures? How should we determine policies around student access to recordings? I’m not sure I can answer these questions here, but for the time being, I’m thankful that online learning has come with the advantage of recorded lectures.