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Finding the balance: students reflect on in-person learning during COVID-19

In September 2021, during COVID-19's second wave, King’s decided to blaze a trail and welcome students in-person.

Working closely with the provincial government and Alberta Health Services, King's implemented strict social distancing, masking requirements, and required proof of vaccine to enter campus buildings. Online course access was also available for students uncomfortable with attending in-person.

But why not keep everything solely online? President Melanie Humphreys says King’s recognized that mental health challenges were emerging with students and faculty working in isolation rather than in a community setting.

“We charted a path to balance public health with mental health and community needs,” Humphreys says. “We followed all provincial health guidelines and had no outbreaks or transmission on campus.”

The concern for transmission was not classrooms but hallways and gathering places like the cafeteria and coffee shop—unstructured environments. To prevent or contain any outbreaks, King’s decided to treat the entire campus as a classroom, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative rapid test to enter buildings, PPE, and mandatory self-isolation for students and employees who had symptoms..

King’s remained in-person throughout the fall and winter semesters. Even as the omicron variant caused higher-than-usual infection rates in the community, there was little evidence that suggested on-campus transmission

Below is a sample of what King’s students thought of remaining in-person through the pandemic.

Tatyanna Riphat Mampuya (3rd year sociology student)
Friends | Studies | Anxiety

It did make me feel scared at first that King’s was open because all of the other universities were closed. And for a second I thought, is King’s taking this seriously? But when I came in-person and saw that as long as you respect the guidelines, keep socially distanced, wear your mask and make an effort to be safe, then it was fine.

By remaining open, King’s helped me in two ways: with my studies and also with my friend group. Having everything in-person helped me better understand lectures, and also be able to ask questions right away without waiting for an answer to an email. I found that when everything was online it was really isolating, so at least with in-person I could interact with my friends and study together. At home I had no motivation to get assignments done.

I heard one of the reasons that King’s stayed open was to help students with their anxiety. I personally don’t struggle with anxiety, but I know people that do and I feel like coming in-person and being able to talk with people helped with that.

Alex Stewart (2nd secondary education student)
Athletics | Friendship | Practicum

As a transfer student, I knew almost nobody when I arrived. I applied to King's because I knew that I wanted to do a secondary education after-degree; that was really important to me and badminton was also really important to me. In my very first semester we had a month in-person and then we were put online because of COVID. And in an ed program where it’s really important that you go face-to-face with other students and build those connections, it dropped off online.

So my sole ability to make friends and build a community here at King’s was based in athletics. It was my outlet and stress reliever. So when everything opened up again, that was the thing that I looked forward to the most. Badminton was one of the sports they relaunched first because it already has an aspect of social distancing. So it was really nice that we were able to play right away compared to other sports, and were fully practising on campus. 

Sahil Shrestha  (3rd year computing science student)
Labs | Online Benefits

The main problem was the labs because in computing science it’s not hard for us to have online labs, but if I had any questions it’s really hard to ask them over video calls because I’d have to share my screen which makes it difficult to show exactly what’s happening.

I don’t think we as humans are able to solely learn things online. Certain courses can be taught online, but university is not about just a course, it’s about the experience you get. Being solely online is not going to help you to improve as a person.

I think everyone likes having classes in-person, the only reason we liked it online at first was because it was easy: there was no commute, you could just wake up, watch the recording, and do your stuff. But in the end it wasn’t good for me.

Noku Mpofu (5th year psychology student)
Mental Health | Grades

Being online was so bad for not only my mental health, but also for my academic success. When we went online at the beginning of COVID, my grades plummeted. Contact with the profs, and even how I take notes, is so different online than it is in person.

I really like that the school put in so much effort to get us as normal as possible as quickly as possible. There is a need for in-person classes and I think there always will be. I think about all the other universities who had to make harder concessions than we did. At King's, in a special community:—small enough that we could assert ourselves—a sweet spot for size.

Ben Dueck (2nd year business student)
Leaving the House | Exercise | Safety

The biggest thing that helped me with King’s being open was being able to get out of the house to work out and exercise in the gym. I had COVID in January 2022, so when I was at home it felt like being stuck in the house and by the end of the day realizing I hadn’t left the house that day is not a good feeling. 

It’s nice to be able to come somewhere for school rather than doing everything in one location. Now that King’s is fully open, there’s a nice divide between home life and school life. I feel safe here.

Lydia Jose (4th year sociology student)
Better Engagement | Social Interaction

Being in-person allowed me to make eye contact with the professor which makes it easier when writing exams because I can remember the professor did this or that when they said this. Whereas when you’re doing only online, you won’t have that kind of recall. There’s no memorable moments when you’re on a screen. And everyone is so quiet with their cameras off and there’s always awkward silence.

King’s being open has helped me have a stronger bond with my fellow students because King’s is a close university and we all pretty much know each other. But if you were doing everything online you wouldn’t have the same interaction.


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