‘BRUTAL’: Students stressed and struggling with online learning as exam season approaches
Faced with sleepless nights, hours of studying and constant stress, Finn Buffett found himself dropping the course he needed to graduate — only two weeks into the fall semester.
Buffett, a third-year student at Carleton University, went into the fall term optimistic he’d be able to handle the move from in-person to online learning. But less than a month in, with a high grade-point average and a scholarship to maintain, the 20-year-old dropped a mandatory course.
“It was brutal,” he said. “I haven’t had any trouble managing five classes and at times have considered taking six to get ahead, but this year was overwhelming. It was greater than anything I’ve experienced before.”
Nearly three months into the fall term, students are still trying to manage different tasks, assignments and styles of digital course delivery. Exams are only a few short weeks away and Buffett, who has never struggled with mental health issues, said his well-being is on the decline.
Organizations and advocacy groups that work with students say Buffett’s story is all too familiar. Some students have been overwhelmed by the switch to online learning, while some professors have also struggled to find ways to make digital learning engaging.
“As professors are looking to make online learning more interactive, sometimes that’s also a juggle for students. … Now with it being more interactive, there’s a feeling of being even busier,” said Marija Padjen, the director of the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health, an organization that works with Ontario universities and colleges on mental health initiatives.
That added workload has also put more strain on some students’ mental health.
“Even students who are without underlying mental health concerns are struggling,” said Megan Town, a committee member of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, a student advocacy group. “And this is related to the workload they are facing with online courses.”
More than ever, the success of a class is dependent on the instructor, said Buffett, who said his experiences have varied from professor to professor.
And with exams around the corner, Town said students need professors who understand the importance of communication in a digital learning environment.
“I hear from some students who aren’t getting emails back from their instructors, who don’t have information posted online by their instructors on what their exam is going to look like — it makes for a very stressful situation,” she said. “Students are paying a lot for their education and they want to do well, but that’s hard to do without the information they need.”