The pandemic is stretching all areas of our society from health care and small businesses to blurring the boundaries between public and private life. Graduate and undergraduate students are not immune to the struggles of our global crisis, but many are also facing the additional challenge of traversing an entirely online learning experience. Adapting to new technology, participating in mandatory virtual group assignments, and trekking through digital proctored exams are just a few of the things students are having to navigate. But are university administrators actually listening to the needs of students and learning from the mistakes of the Spring/Summer and Fall 2020 semesters? I believe now is the time for students to act, to share their experiences, their frustrations, and their successes with others so universities can improve the 2021 experience for all of us. There is so much power in a story, especially one which is a relatable experience shared by many others going through similar physical, emotional and spiritual challenges. We may not all be “in the same boat,” but we can help prop each other up by throwing out some life preservers.
AUSU’s The Voice Magazine is a powerful tool for sharing experiences and creating a sense of community among AU students, alumni and faculty. In a recent article, AU’s Writer in Residence Joshua Whitehead shares his academic and personal journey. I was personally enticed by Whitehead’s comment to “Be wary of the ways in which we, as storytellers, archive or note-take in our lives as people—don’t consume voraciously, be strategic in how we curate our inspirations and our traumas.” Whitehead’s comments show an understanding of the influence of storytelling and its impact on collective identity. The Voice Magazine’s writer Natalia Iwanek regularly shares the stories of current and alumni AU students, and if you have a story to tell, I know she would love to hear from you!
The stories and experiences of university students during a pandemic can uplift others and encourage resiliency. UNESCO has started a campaign called #LearningNeverStops where students from all over the world can share their learning experiences, successes, and frustrations during COVID-19. Many of the videos depict innovative ways teachers and professors are adapting instruction in response to new and emergent technology. After watching only a few of the videos I was moved and inspired to try harder and be more persistent in my own studies in 2021. It can be difficult to navigate and stay motivated during online instruction. We expect learning to be social and interactive but knowing others have succeeded through similar challenges can help us be encouraged to stay engaged with our own learning.
One of my favourite things about Athabasca University is the diversity in the backgrounds and geographical locations of its student body. Sharing stories can break across these cultural boundaries to foster empathy, respect, and compassion for others. Miriam Plotinsky, an education specialist, claims storytelling should be at the heart of instruction as “students engage more authentically with instruction because of the organic human interest.” As an education student, I truly believe stories have the ability to solidify understanding in an educational setting while also strengthening relationships between students.
What stories will we share in 2021? In Canada we are almost at the one-year mark of the pandemic’s direct impact upon our nation and, as university students, we have traversed failing or changing technology, virtual graduations, digital exams, and both library and academic facility closures. We all have a story to share, and possibly our story can change our own academic journey in 2021 as well as the future of online education for incoming post-secondary students. There are many ways we can start sharing our story: it could start with just providing course feedback through AU’s Peer Course Reviews or completing course evaluations. The Voice Magzine, right here, is another channel reaching AU’s current students, alumni and faculty and is an ideal place for giving opinions, addressing educational challenges and pitching new ideas. At the Voice, we love to hear real lived experiences of students and encourage you to share your story with others.
On a personal note, I am looking forward to change and progress in post-secondary education in 2021. I hope Canadian universities have learned from our frustrations as students and that our feedback has been heard so it can impact change. We are a resilient group who have now faced something no other group of university students have. We are learning to adapt in a different learning environment, and I hope we will come out stronger and more flexible as a result.