Echoes of silence: teachings from the pandemic

Graphic by Alexa Hawskworth

Students who began their university years online due to COVID-19 revisit the early days of virtual learning.

The rhythmic tapping of keyboards and murmurs of conversation usually fill Concordia’s CJ building newsroom, a place where stories are chased and the news never sleeps. But on a Friday afternoon, just one week before the semester’s start, the room was an island of solitude on an equally empty campus. The only exception was Elisabeth Ndeffo, a fourth-year journalism student, who sat alone, immersed in the quiet that was once a rarity here.

This stillness was a stark contrast to the typical atmosphere, but it was a familiar one for Ndeffo. It mirrored the quiet that had descended upon the space during the pandemic semesters when the vibrant exchange of ideas was replaced by the silence of remote learning. The newsroom became a reflection of the isolation that students like Ndeffo experienced during the height of COVID-19.

Concordia beckoned, but the virus’ shadow loomed. “I knew that it was going to follow me in university,” she recounted, her voice carrying the weight of a premonition come true. The shift to university life in fall 2020 was supposed to be a fresh chapter. Instead, it posed the question: how long is this going to last? 

“It honestly sucked,” Ndeffo admitted. The rites of passage for first-year students—frosh, activities, the social rites of university life—were absent when she started university. “We couldn’t do frosh, activities, or anything that you’d normally do.”

“I didn’t want to do something reduced,” she said. Yet the circumstances demanded compromise and innovation. “We had to craft it out,” she explained. “You had to interview your family. I remember I did an assignment on how to hard-boil an egg. It was a Martha Stewart recipe.”

AJ Cordeiro, media instructor at Concordia, reflected on what came with the shift to online classes. “It got way lonelier,” he said, explaining his expanded role during the pandemic. Troubleshooting shifted to platforms like Zoom.

The delay in accessing professional equipment was also a frustration for Ndeffo, who was keen on gaining practical skills. “I only got to use a lot of the video equipment in third year, a bit in second year,” she said. “I knew about cameras, but there was a lot of hands-on training that we missed out on.”

When in-person classes cautiously resumed, a different kind of connection emerged. “It was exciting. I had met some of my peers, even though we were online. We would see each other on video,” Ndeffo recalled, finding solace in the digital faces of her classmates. Even with the return to campus, the mask mandates created a new barrier, contrasting the openness of virtual interactions with the masked, in-person ones.

Amidst the pandemic’s challenges, Cordeiro observed a significant shift at Concordia’s journalism school, leading to unexpected benefits. “It was an opportunity to reevaluate and explore new solutions,” he said, highlighting the adoption of cross-platform solutions and the use of more accessible technology such as smartphones. This transition, according to Cordeiro, fostered a more adaptable and flexible approach to education.

Despite a rocky start and the uneven playing field that the pandemic exacerbated, Ndeffo is forging ahead with a prestigious internship at CBC News. Her journey, like many others, reflects the resilience and adaptability fostered in the face of unprecedented times.

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