When I first began my undergraduate degree in 2018, everything about university seemed so firmly entrenched in remaining the way it was. From the hard seats in the lecture halls to the rigid structure of degrees to the processes that kept the university running, it was hard to imagine what change meant or looked like.
Yet, it was deeply apparent, in my own reflections and conversations with my peers, professors and university staff that change, on the small and big things, was necessary.
March 11, 2020, the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic, the concept of change suddenly became enveloped in every aspect of life. As research began on this novel virus, as public health guidelines developed, as the way we lived turned on its head, change was ironically the only constant. It became a part of the air we breathed, and university education was no different.
The end of my second year of university was hastily shifted online. That spring I wrote my first of many virtual exams, a stressful experience of hoping nothing would happen to the internet. With the campus closed, my summer research internship at the university pivoted fully virtual and while diving into research, I learned about the world of VPN and Zoom.
My entire third year of university, including laboratory courses, was online. I learned how to learn online, lead and engage in community initiatives online and work virtually with a student editorial team to produce our university’s student newspaper every week.
Hybrid was the name of the game in fourth year. With half of my classes on campus, I had to reacquaint myself with how to learn in person again. Crossing the stage at graduation this past spring I realized the longest class I took in university, with perhaps the richest learning experiences, was the class created by circumstances of the pandemic. From watching my teachers work creatively to re-design their courses to working with students on projects in new ways, I learned firsthand that change in how we learn, to meet the moment of today, is possible.
While encouraged by the willingness to adapt, these pandemic years have also emphasized the many gaps in our education system, from the lack of equitable access to internet to enormous financial stress experienced by university students. So that all students can learn in a safe and encouraging environment, these gaps must be addressed.
Through these trying times, I’ve learned that change in education systems is of utmost importance and that the systems that shape our lives can and should be reinvented. Together, we can redefine what it means to learn and how we do it. After all, COVID-19 is not the first challenge our education systems have faced and certainly won’t be the last.
To move forward, in the face of great uncertainty and possibility, change is necessary.