Should U of T’s Hybrid Semesters Be The New Normal?

Should U of T’s Hybrid Semesters Be The New Normal?

Photo Credit: Samantha Hamilton, Photo Editor

Reflections on U of T’s blended learning model

Ethan Hui, The MIke Contributor

The implementation of this semester’s hybrid model, with its mix of online and in–person classes, has provided students with an array of benefits to experience campus life again and finally to avoid the long-term burnout and isolation of remote learning. It has been half a semester since the hybrid model took effect. In theory, hybrid learning sounds ideal: it combines the enriching community aspects of in–person learning and the convenience of online learning. But after experiencing it, in practice, there are some notable challenges that arise when you mix two drastically different course delivery methods.

To start off on a not-too-pessimistic note, personally, as a second-year student, this semester has been vastly more fulfilling than my freshman year. This is because I am finally able to interact with my classmates and professors and can participate in social events. I saw a great uptick in my mental health, and I am sure many other students feel the same way.

Now, on to the downsides. Whether online learning works is dependent on the idea that students are confined to a single setting; thus, workloads will tend to be on the heavier side as students are expected to allocate more time into online courses when there is no time wasted via commuting. When this is complemented with in–person learning, the result is heightened time constraints that come with traversing around the campus while balancing some online courses.

On days with a mix of online and in–person classes, there is also the awkwardness of taking Zoom classes in one of the libraries (with a mask on) in comparison to the comfort in your own home.

Additionally, I have had immense trouble transitioning back to the in–person academic culture and the different work ethic that is required to succeed in this environment. This is in part due to the constant back and forth between online learning and in–person classes. Online learning, while possessing its own challenges, generally is less punishing toward inefficient study habits because most assessments are open book, and the pre-recorded lecture material is more easily digestible because you can pause it.

Therefore, when students are thrown in the unfamiliar world of in–person classes with less structured lectures and closed-book exams, it become significantly more daunting for them to shift to the new norms when they still must worry about the most efficient way to Ctrl-F an online textbook for the next weekly quiz.

Regardless of the complaints, U of T has still been very accommodating in allowing the hybrid model to go forward. I know some of my friends in other universities partaking, once again, in fully online semesters are eagerly anticipating the return of the in–person experience. However, at the end of the day, hybrid learning is just a solution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In my opinion, it is not one to be pursued in the long term after everything is back to normal. Unfortunately, for now, students are stuck in the position of getting 50% or less of the social experience of university combined with the increased workload of online courses.