Students should not get their hopes up about the year 2021 being significantly better than 2020 simply because it is a new year. The global pandemic is still in full swing, despite the newly introduced COVID-19 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines creeping upon the horizon.
While the vaccines are in the process of being distributed to health-care workers and those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, the dissemination of the vaccines does not mean the pandemic is over. This is simply the beginning of the end—we will still have to wear masks, remain socially distant, wash our hands frequently, and be cautious of where we gather.
In fact, the New York Times asked Dr. Anthony Fauci,
“When do you think we’ll all be able to throw our masks away?”
“I think that we’re going to have some degree of public health measures together with the vaccine for a considerable period of time. But we’ll start approaching normal — if the overwhelming majority of people take the vaccine — as we get into the third or fourth quarter [of 2021].”
Students, and the public in general, then, should not get too excited about 2021 being vastly different from 2020 because, unfortunately, the global pandemic has not suddenly ceased to exist once the new year began. And while there may be some improvement with the vaccines, life will remain unprecedented and unsettling for a while longer after the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve.
However, in spite of global circumstances remaining more or less the same, students can hold on to the hope that the 2021 academic year will be improved. This opinion may be speculatory, but both students and professors have endured the steep learning curve of the first semester of online learning.
We have “survived” the entire semester and learned what works well and what does not. We are more accustomed to teaching and learning in an online environment through mediums such as Collaborate Ultra and Zoom. We are now more aware of Zoom etiquette and what it means to be respectful and polite in an online classroom, as well as what it means to be actively engaged in a virtual course. We have experienced the joys and difficulties that inevitably come with living virtually: we have attended Zoom classes in our pajamas, we have logged into classrooms at 7:59 am, we have cried with our microphones on mute, and we have interrupted people far too many times, insisting that they go ahead and make their point first.
As a result of a semester’s worth of experiences, we are more aware of how exhausting technology is, and ideally, we are more aware of how to mitigate technology fatigue in order to achieve our academic goals. Since students have taken online tests, quizzes, midterms, and exams multiple times, for multiple courses, students now know what to expect in this unique world of online learning. Professors, too, are well-versed in what it means to teach in a virtual way, and they should be adjusting their syllabus’ accordingly for the next semester. They have also experienced first-hand how difficult these times have been.
Although trying to keep student life ‘normal’ during a global pandemic is difficult, and at times, unbearable, it is also necessary. Despite its challenges, education is a great privilege. This year’s learning curve has been collective, and this should mean that the 2021 semester of University at UBCO will be more seamless and less stressful.
Hopefully, then, after a semester filled with trial and error, both students and professors alike will have shifted their expectations for online school. The upcoming semester, in theory, should be more productive and restful—perhaps even enjoyable.