15 days to go!
Wow, post #10! I cannot believe we’re already here.
I’ve spent many weeks telling you about all the fantastic things in Skule you have to look forward to very soon. This week I wanted to write a post addressing the elephant in the room (or I guess, the elephant in the blog), and that is remote learning. As you know, the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering is providing a remote access guarantee for both the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters. Full details on the evolving plans can be found here.
I won’t lie to you – I’m disappointed that we won’t all be together on campus next month. The University of Toronto, especially its St. George campus, is a vast and gorgeous place and is something we always highlight to prospective students. At the same time, the world’s in a different place than it was a year ago and unfortunately for the time being, we need to be a little separated from one another.
From all of these changes I see many missed opportunities, but I also see so many more new opportunities that each of you will be able to experience as pioneers of a remote first-year program.
Hold your courses accountable
There are many new technological and teaching advances being developed by our faculty and staff at this very moment that are going to enhance the online experience my classmates and I had last semester, so that you can start your engineering undergraduate experience off on the right foot. Your upper-year peers have been working with the Faculty to give feedback on what worked well, and what they can improve.
Make the most of those learning innovations and developments. The best thing you can do is show up to your online lectures and tutorials and give your instructors your attention and support. They have been working incredibly hard to move their courses online, many having spent hours and hours reading research papers on remote learning, or teaching themselves how to use brand-new software and hardware. They want nothing more than to make their courses as straightforward and accessible as possible for students. I know it might be easy to tune out during a remote lecture (I’m guilty of this), but try to stay engaged. There’s nothing more disappointing than spending all week preparing a really cool lecture for students only to later come face to face with a screen of people who might not be paying attention.
Give your instructors a chance, and most importantly give feedback. What they or their TA’s see on their screens might be different from what is displayed on your end, so let them know when something is incorrect, missing, or just confusing. I promise you nobody will take it personally if you’re respectful and constructive in your feedback — and it will only reflect positively on you as a student who’s trying to make it work. And if you don’t feel comfortable being the one to say something, you can always tell your Class Reps or VP Academic of EngSoc (spoiler: that’s me!), and they can pass along the information.
This semester will undoubtedly have growing pains, so let’s work together to make remote learning at U of T Engineering as robust as possible.
The value of time
For me personally, finishing last semester at home in quarantine really changed my weekday schedule. On the one hand, quarantine freed up some time as I didn’t need to cook my own meals or commute to my classes since I’d moved back in with my family. On the other hand though I somehow felt like I was even busier, and couldn’t figure out why.
Abrupt changes in our daily lives affect everyone differently. I really hope each of you takes some time before school starts to set a rough schedule for how you plan to spend your time this semester. If you planned on commuting for first year and it’s no longer happening, ask yourself how you plan to use this extra time. A popular answer to that would be sleeping or studying. I know for many of my friends usually they’d come home at the end of the day after a long commute in first year and want nothing more than to finish their homework and sleep. This extra time now gives you an opportunity to connect more with those whose company you enjoy. For me this has been my sisters, but others have told me that for them it’s been a friend, a parent, a neighbour, a pet…the list goes on.
You might also consider using this time to focus on personal hobbies or try new ones altogether. If you’ve been reading my blog all summer you’ll know I’ve been knee-deep in growing a veggie garden. I would never have done that if I hadn’t been learning online, and now I can say I know how to successfully make a salad without taking a trip to a grocery store. 🙂
However you choose to spend your time, remember nothing is set in stone and you can always try something different until you find what works best.
Put your problem-solving skills to the test
As you experience your first year, take time every once in a while to look around you at what’s happening in your community. Do you see something that can be improved? Made more efficient? Something that could improve the lives of others?
Since we all won’t be living in the Greater Toronto Area, we’ll each be able to observe a different environment with potential problems and solutions that you as an engineering student can think about. Every year, the U of T Engineering Entrepreneurship Hatchery runs a summer start-up program called The Nest, open to all undergraduate students. They offer a summer of financial support and mentorship to student teams offering “the next big start-up idea”. A lot of the start-ups students created at The Nest so far have been based on problems they observed mostly through living in Toronto. Imagine what you and your classmates can create by living anywhere in the world!
We’re living in a time where every day we realize there’s something not working or someone who’s being disadvantaged by the nature of this pandemic. The innovation that comes out of these problems by engineers and especially students, is going to make lasting impacts on the world for a long time.
That’s all I have for this week, I’ll see you soon.