Unpopular Opinions: Why I Prefer Online Learning to In-Person Learning
On Wednesday, October 6, 2021, in its official Return to Campus e-newsletter, the University of Windsor announced that most Winter 2022 courses would be delivered in person or include an in-person component. Courses at UWindsor have not been delivered mainly in person since March 19, 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began gaining ground in Canada and it became necessary to transition courses to an entirely online format to ensure the community’s safety. In the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters, courses remained online for the most part. This semester, courses have also mostly remained online, but a few have been offered in a face-to-face, hybrid, or hyflex format, foreshadowing the transition to mainly in-person learning next semester.
Among the student body, the University’s recent announcement of a return to face-to-face learning in the upcoming Winter semester was met with a wide range of responses, from jubilation to disappointment to indifference. I am among those who were a bit disappointed at having to attend courses on campus again, because contrary to most students, I prefer online learning. I’m fully aware of all of its defects, all the ways it falls short of the real thing, and yet, if given the choice, I would choose it over in-person learning any day.
Commuting, Convenience, and Cash Savings
The convenience of online learning alone wins me over. For example, being able to skip my lengthy commute thanks to online school has saved me so much time. I live in East Windsor, so in pre-covid times, I used to have to commute for a total of 2 hours a day by bus to attend my classes. I’d spend one hour on the bus on my way to school in the morning, and then one hour on my way back, and that isn’t even counting the amount of time I had to wait around outside for the bus to show up when it was inevitably late, or wait around for the next one when it just happened to show up early. I’m not the only one to experience this issue, either. In fact, of the 5,200 complaints received by Transit Windsor in 2015, many were about buses showing up late or too early. To be fair, Transit Windsor service in East Windsor has started to improve. For example, in February 2021, a pilot express route from Windsor’s East end to St. Clair College was approved by city council to shorten student’s commute times. Whether the pilot project becomes permanent, or whether UWindsor implements a similar program for its own East Windsor students, is another question.
The retro blue carpeting on the seats of those buses still haunts me in my dreams, and sometimes, I still hear the repeated shriek of the bell pull, like this white noise that’s incrusted itself in the depths of my unconscious, and become part of my very being. I am the bus, and the bus is me. Just kidding, that’s not true. I’m not even sure what it means. Sounded nice, though.
Maybe you think I’m just whining, which I sort of am, but I think the misery of commuting as a student is a common experience, and I think it’s something that deserves to be talked about. And I don’t say any of this to evoke your pity—which you can keep, thank you very much—but to properly convey to you the overall suckiness of the situation. I was chronically sleep-deprived from having to wake up at ungodly hours to catch the bus, and then having to stay up late to do coursework because I got home late from the bus. My time was constantly being wasted: when I was walking to the bus, when I was waiting outside for the bus, when I was on the bus. You’re probably thinking: Why couldn’t you just get some work done while you were on the bus? Well, I tried my best, but it’s not easy to read or write on a moving vehicle, surrounded by tons of noisy people in very close proximity.
Perhaps hidden in here is also some kind of commentary about the way the middle-class man’s life is organized in such a way as to waste his time, deplete his energy, and thwart an anti-capitalist revolution. At his workplace, his every shift, break, and movement is timed, and it is so in his personal life as well. His commutes are long and his time to himself is short, and so he never has a chance to stop and ask: Is another way of life possible? (I’m kidding! But also, maybe I’m not.)
And don’t start telling me all my problems would be solved if I simply drove to school. Parking passes ain’t cheap, my friend. An 8-month permit for UWindsor’s main campus ranges from $450 to $678. They’re in limited supply as well, so it’s not a guarantee that you’ll even be able to snag one. I would much rather pay for a U-Pass, which from 2016 to Winter 2020 cost only 132$ for the 8-month school year. Unfortunately, this heavily-discounted bus pass for UWindsor students has been suspended since Fall 2020 because of the pandemic, so a semester pass now costs $274.60.
And what about international students, or Canadian students who don’t live in the Windsor-Essex region? Some of my non-Windsorite friends are bummed out about not being able to live on campus and attend class in person, but some have also told me that it’s been very convenient for them to save thousands of dollars in rent and living costs. That’s a fair sentiment, since residence fees at UWindsor in the Fall 2021 semester ranged from $4,231 to $4,627. Meal plans, which all students living on residence are required to purchase, cost between $2,550 to $2,990 per semester. If I wasn’t a Windsor-Essex resident, I might not be so mad if classes remained online for just one more semester…
But anyway, all you really need to know about the bus and how much I hate it is to refer to S2E9 of Arthur, where Arthur has a daydream of himself on the bus: the bus never actually stops, all the passengers turn into aliens, and the bus becomes a spaceship and flies away. So relatable.
Flexibility, or How to Skip Class and Not Feel Bad About It
Another aspect of online school that I appreciate is its flexibility. For example, a lot of my courses in the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters were asynchronous, meaning that they were prerecorded and students could watch them whenever they wanted. This was incredibly convenient for various reasons.
First, I could pause and replay lectures as many times as I wanted. I loved this because it allowed me to take much better notes than I would have in person. I didn’t have to jot down the professor’s words so fast it gave me whiplash, or end up with notes less legible than the texts of the Indus Valley civilization. It was also helpful pedagogically. I could pause the video whenever I didn’t understand something to think about it. I could slow it down when things were too fast or speed it up when they were too slow. I could even rewatch the lecture again later to review it. These options all helped me absorb my course material in a way that simply wasn’t possible to me when courses were offered in person.
Second, online school allowed me to advance through my courses at my own pace. I could get ahead of the course schedule or slow down, depending on my circumstances. If I knew I was going to be busy one week, I could plan ahead and just watch the lecture and do the coursework for it early. If I was having difficulty with the material for a certain week, or if life just got in the way, I could put the course on hold for a bit, and it wouldn’t be a problem. I also never had to worry about having to miss class because of an emergency, doctor’s appointment, or any other commitment. It was freeing, really. I could really plan my education around my own schedule. I’m sure this has also been beneficial for mature students or students who are parents and have to manage having a full-time job and a family alongside their studies.
Now, despite its incredible flexibility, I know asynchronous online courses have a lot of downsides, too. It can be really demotivating not to have a set course schedule. You might procrastinate and end up having to figure out how to watch 50 hours’ worth of lectures in 8 hours the night before your exam. It also sucks not to be able to ask questions during lectures or have discussions with your peers, and Blackboard discussion boards are not a good substitute for the latter—they’re just another chore.
However, synchronous lectures which are also recorded partially solve these problems; they give you a set schedule—thus curbing the potential for procrastination—and the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the material during class. Maybe you think that none of that matters because an online lecture just doesn’t replace the atmosphere or energy of an in-person class. It loses the indescribable magic of face-to-face learning. Maybe so, but as a practical person, and a sad-and-hardened adult™, I would sacrifice magic for practicality. (In the moment I wrote that, 3 fairies died. It was really sad.)
Social Anxiety + Online School = A Match Made in Heaven
The main reason that I prefer online learning is because it has seriously decreased my social anxiety. Now, I don’t just get anxious from having to interact with people. I get anxious simply from being around them. Sitting next to people stresses me out because it makes me feel like they can hear my thoughts. Walking around people stresses me out because I get self-conscious about how they’re perceiving me. Making eye contact with people stresses me out, because what if they see into my soul and are repulsed? In short, I am 60% water and 40% anxiety. You can imagine my anxiety levels when I had to be on campus.
Being able to take my courses alone from the comfort of my own home has been a dream come true. I can now leave a message in the chat instead of speaking if I want to participate in class. I can choose not to be perceived by anyone by keeping my camera off. (Although it’s doubly anxiety-inducing when you do actually have to turn on your mic or camera, but we’re not gonna talk about that because it doesn’t serve the point I’m trying to make. I have a lot of intellectual integrity.) No, online learning obviously hasn’t solved the problem of having social anxiety. If anything, I am avoiding “facing my fear” and developing “healthy coping mechanisms”, or whatever, for when I have to be around people. But I don’t care, because it’s been such a welcome relief during a collectively terrible time. Funny thing is, not having enough social interaction has been causing anxiety to others, but that personally hasn’t been my experience.
I know online learning has been rough for many people, but the convenience, flexibility, and freedom from social anxiety afforded to me by it make me wonder how I could ever go back to in-person learning. If you catch me on campus next semester hyperventilating from anxiety, say hi!