While new students prefer in-person learning, they are adapting well to online learning

Featured image shows two students looking directly at the camera
Featured image shows two students looking directly at the camera

There’s no doubt about it: both Adrianna Bonavota and Mishal Vellani would prefer to be sitting in classrooms on the Keele Campus this month, but they accept that online classes are the way of the world today.

Adrianna Bonavota
Adrianna Bonavota

Bonavota is a first-year accounting student at the Schulich School of Business who lives in Vaughan, a 20-minute commute from the campus, while Vellani is a first-year earth and atmospheric science student at the Lassonde School of Engineering who lives in Kampala, Uganda. Although they are presently oceans apart, they have both been busy on Zoom lately, taking part in Orientation Week activities at York and beginning their first year of university classes.

“Orientation Week was kind of challenging because it was all online, but it was fun,” said Bonavota. “We had Zoom calls, did baking and dancing – all things you could do together alone.”

Vellani first attended a virtual party hosted by York International (YI), the hub for all things international at the University, and soon she found herself volunteering as a host for YI’s virtual events and joining in their virtual coffee breaks.

“York International is pretty cool,” Vellani said. “Because of the coffee breaks, I met more people to talk to and became part of some What’s App groups. I thought that when I attended school in Canada, I’d meet Canadians, but there’s so much diversity. I’ve met students from so many different countries already and learned about different cultures.”

Bonavota was a bit apprehensive about remote classes, but she is finding her rhythm.

“When we studied online in high school, I was as self-disciplined as I would have liked and procrastinated,” she said. “I feel as if it would be easier to push myself if I were in class physically, but the groups of friends I made during Frosh have all been pushing ourselves.”

It also doesn’t hurt that she and her best friend from high school are both in the accounting program and chose all of the same classes.

“We study together and take some of our classes together,” she said.

Mishal Vellani
Mishal Vellani

For Vellani, one of the biggest challenges of online classes may be the time difference; Kampala is seven hours ahead of Toronto, so her early classes begin at 3:30 p.m.

“I did Frosh Week, and events that began at 8 p.m. started at 3 a.m. here,” she said. “I just slept until noon. I guess my body clock is adjusting.”

Fortunately, not all of her classes are synchronous, so she’ll have some flexibility.

“Our professors are really trying and are accommodating. For our exams, they give us a 12-hour time period in which to take the exam, so anyone around the world will be okay.”

The technology itself doesn’t worry her, but internet connectivity could be an issue.

“I adapted fast to technology and learned to use Zoom in high school,” Vellani said. “Now, I’m getting used to eClass and the social media platforms. I’m more worried about internet connectivity, because it could cut out at any time. I’m very glad all the classes are being recorded.”

Bonavota is finding the workload heavy, especially since her classes require a lot of reading and note-taking in preparation for remote lectures. However, it never occurred to her to delay the first year of university until she could attend live classes.

“Taking a gap year would have been a setback,” Bonavota said. “This way, I’m still in the same year as the others my age.”

She is taking five courses: four required classes and a fascinating elective, American Sign Language.

“My best friend and I wanted to learn a language together so we could communicate differently,” Bonavota said. “It’s very cool. Our professor is deaf, so we had an interpreter for the first class, but now we don’t. It’s a completely silent class – we watch the PowerPoint presentation. I’m really enjoying it; we’re already signing the alphabet and our names.”

As much as she enjoys it, it won’t change her mind about pursuing an accounting career.

“I plan to get my Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation,” Bonavota said. “I love math and numbers come easily to me.

“I love learning. Just opening a textbook and making notes is fun.”

Vellani’s ultimate goal is to work for NASA.

“I always wanted to be someone who has the opportunity to go to outer space,” she said. “I want to know what’s outside our world, see God’s creations and explore where I live.”

They’re off to a good start at York and, meanwhile, using the online tools at their disposal, they’re building a strong sense of community.

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus