Online learning: the challenges faced by one engineering student at UW in the midst of this pandemic. My experience of studying online during the pandemic

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The uncanny emotion I felt when I received my letter of acceptance from UW is difficult to express, if it would have been some other time of year maybe the arrival of this new beginning would have been just about happiness. But, this time it was different! We were (and are) in the midst of a pandemic that started affecting our lives slowly but with drastic changes. I was happy with the news of getting admitted to an esteemed university but at the same time I felt these upsetting emotions that only led to confusion – shall I accept the offer or not? Would deferring be a good option or not? As an international student and staying miles away from Canada, it felt as though my luck was not in much favour and maybe good news had arrived at a bad time. However, I knew that there cannot be an “in-between situation”, a decision must be taken before time slips out of my hands, either I must accept this new beginning by getting admitted to the university and starting the course online or I continue with my routine – the 9 to 7 job. The later part though had its own challenges was still my comfort zone. And it was time I stepped out of it. Maybe, this quote by Meister Eckhart was literally what I needed to hear and follow too – “And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” So, yes as you rightly guessed I chose to accept the offer and trust the magic of this new beginning.

The challenge was not just the distant learning, managing finances – humongous tuition fees, taking care of family during a pandemic and finding a constant source of motivation were all together toiling. Although, with help of extremely supportive family members managing finances was not bothersome. It was now time to focus on my studies. It started with the selection of courses in the term, attending webinars to understand the culture of the university. I would like to mention that I have found many interesting and interactive resources that never made me doubt my decisions. The engagement of various student organizations and graduate associations like GSPA through emails and webinars made me feel as though I was a part of the university and that nothing is stagnant. Waterloo LEARN is the best online learning tool from my perspective. It actually made learning online easy and interactive.

To get acquainted with the learning schemes, I thought of enrolling for only 2 subjects and they were core subjects of Electrical Engineering. The lectures were asynchronous and because I am a morning person and attending lectures late at night for 2-3 hours was not my cup of tea, I preferred recorded lectures. All course contents were well arranged on LEARN and I never found it tedious to access any information on it. Notifications, discussions, lecture material, submission boxes and grades too, everything was easily accessible without any technical glitches. Being a student who is more attentive during classes and understands mostly from the in-person lectures, online learning through videos was initially a little less interactive and monotonous – I was losing interest. But thanks to the course instructors which I think worked exceptionally hard to record perfect and to-the-point videos that made learning easy and interesting eventually. I was happy to have found a good mentor allotted by our department as well as classmates who had chosen the same subjects. Whenever I had any doubts or anxieties these people were always there to hear me out. Though we were all distant and have never actually met, this new way of living and learning made us good friends and supporters. It was like we were all together in it and supported each other to walk through the anxieties of these difficult times.

It was mid-term and soon assignments, lectures, term papers started to feel a little burdensome. I would say “time management” was the only tonic that helped me stay on track. During the same time, I also had to travel to get my documents done for the visa. Managing household chores, studies, being in good health and staying motivated had now become the only purpose of my life. With the support of professors and good course content, I was able to learn effectively. Exams were approaching and it was already the end of a term. If I look back now, though the anxiety and confusion were burdening the spirit of moving forward, staying persevering and determined helped me get through difficult times. Sometimes you just need to do it and accept new things. I have a habit of writing musings, “Though being stagnant makes you feel comfortable and secure, keep flowing; stagnant things stale!” and choosing the flow helped this time. I am still anxious today and eagerly waiting for my visa and wish to travel to Waterloo, experiencing all the aspects of a graduate student’s life practically and not virtually. But I am happy that I chose a new beginning. Support from family, friends, and the UW community helped me stay firm to my goals and that’s how I even managed to pass the exams with good grades and successfully complete the Fall Term. 

Time is flying, and a new term at UW has already begun. The anxieties are pretty less than before but the urge to arrive and start lectures in-person is still constant. First-term helped me figure out how things work and now it’s time to focus again. This unforeseen event though was difficult it helped to look on to negative situations with a positive perspective. Learning can happen in the weirdest and the unimagined way if you have the grit to learn. I hope things get back to normal and everybody finds motivation to do good and be in good health. My journey as UW has just begun and there is more to encounter, trusting the magic of new beginnings.

-Neha Mistri

M.Eng., ECE 

International Graduate Student

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