Humber College students will soon celebrate the not-so-momentous one-year anniversary of their transition to remote learning.
“At the time I thought online classes were going to be in place for maybe a few weeks but now I forget what it’s like to be in a classroom, ” said Kimberly Dacosta, second-year Graphic Design major at Humber.
Humber shifted to online learning last March 16 at the outset of COVID-19 in Canada. Professors and students were jointly tossed to unfamiliar fields, required to adapt to new teaching and learning methods on short notice.
The school was closed for a week as administration and faculty prepared for online classes, relying heavily on Blackboard and Zoom platforms to quickly construct new teaching delivery models.
While select courses already had an online framework, the majority of courses relied on in-person teaching and required modifications to their curriculum.
One of the courses exempted from being restricted to online teaching was Pharmacy Technician Training.
“As healthcare workers, they are needed in response to this global pandemic,” said Sandra Gerges, Humber’s pharmacy technician program manager. “We have been allowed to offer in-person labs in order to ensure the skills of the students are adequate upon graduation.”
Some other courses that are continuing to operate in-person include the culinary, construction and paramedic programs.
“It has been through the support of our faculty members and our instructors that have made this a good experience for the students,” said Michael Auchincloss, one of four associate deans of the School of Applied Sciences and Technology. “You can see that what the instructor puts in, the student gets out.”
He said student reception towards remote learning has been positive, in large part due to professors who made the best of a bad situation. Ensuring the transition was smooth as can be for their classes, as they learned and adapted alongside them.
“We push forward and we’re able to move on and help the students migrate forward within their careers,” Auchincloss said.
Some dropouts were to be expected in the first semester, he said. But overall, Humber has been virtually seeing many more faces as Auchincloss stated Humber’s enrolment average has gone up.
The task now is finding professors to teach them. “Trying to find faculty to fill those spots has been interesting,” Auchincloss said.
Adapting to online platforms in teaching has also been interesting.
“My teachers still run into technical issues and it gives me a weird sort of (comfort) knowing that students aren’t the only ones still having trouble adjusting,” Dacosta said.
She recalls teachers talking with microphones muted and classes with four students on camera — if that. Dacosta acknowledges how difficult it must be to teach when instructors are unsure if anyone’s even listening.
Professors used to be able to judge a room by the confused faces of students. But facial expressions are much harder to read when there are none to be observed.
“I miss staying after class and clarifying assignments with them [professors]. There are some questions that just can’t be answered through an email,” Dacosta said.
Although the hour-long commute to school is seldomly missed, she learned what significance the school environment held. It provided a routine and work area that isn’t always as easily accessible at home.
“It was kind of awkward to connect because you’re in a class with like, 60, 70 people and it’s always the thing of okay, who’s going to turn on their camera first, who’s going to turn their mic on first, who’s going to talk first,” said Kaylynne Fortune, a Police Foundations major at Humber.
As a first-year student, Fortune can’t reminisce on past college experiences.
“This is what my normal is,” she said. Still, her occasional in-person classes offer glimpses of what is being missed.
Fortune admits keeping her attention during online lectures has been challenging. Her curiosity sometimes gets the best of her, scrolling through the screen to see which students have their cameras on and reading the chat logs have become habitual.
She said she still has a long way to go with adjusting to remote learning. But within the year of its establishment, Fortune said online learning has vastly improved and is now more polished.
Students who need extra help in handling online learning can reach out to Humber experts. The college said the mental health of Humber students remains a top priority and assistance is available through remote services to all who need it.
“Students can access services through a combination of remote option supports such as Career and Student Success Advising, Career and Student Success Advising, counselling appointments are also available virtually by telephone or video,” said Humber spokesperson Nadia Arujo.