Photo credit: Charlotte Riethman

For journalism students at Algonquin, the weekly Algonquin Times story meeting serves as the heartbeat of the group. Before March 13, 2020, we’d gather closely around a giant table in our favourite classroom, discuss what was going on with our community and then set off into the vibrant halls of the college to do what we love: talk with students, staff and faculty.

Like anything new, the meetings didn’t go smoothly at first. Thirty people talking over one another, getting off topic and losing track of time – it was as hectic as you can imagine. After a few of them, though, we learned, adapted and got the hang of it.

The meeting kept everyone in-check. But more importantly, for an hour a week it kept everyone close – reminding us that we are all in this together.

About seven months later, we’ve had to figure out how to run our story meeting all over again – almost from scratch.

Now, we gather as tiny black boxes on a screen for what might turn into a two-hour meeting – give or take a wifi issue. We meet, get a pulse and we’re sent offline – still at our desk at home. We get the job done, but we don’t leave with the same feeling of accomplishment and clear direction.

Story meetings are a reflection of what our days have been like since the college announced classes would move online on March 13 due to the pandemic.

We’re thankful for all our program has done to shift online, but we can’t help but feel like we’re starting from scratch. It’s changing the way we see ourselves as students.

We set up make-do learning spaces, got planners to create an organized chaos and found ways to connect with the classmates that became family.

We adapted. It’s in our nature as budding journalists to take what’s thrown at us in stride.

But the most natural thing that we had been doing since we were five was the hardest part to adjust to: learning.

It’s something no amount of Ikea furniture, Chapters daily planners and Zoom codes could help with.

It’s one thing to change everything about the learning process we’ve grown to love, and sometimes hate. But it’s another thing to change our mindset about something we know like the back of our hand.

Some students feel like they can’t concentrate, like they’re on cruise control on Zoom. When we used to be in our physical classroom, those students were the first to answer questions in class, share their opinion for all to hear over coffee.

Some students feel like they are overwhelmed and can’t keep track of assignments because they live in a quiet box called Brightspace. Those students used to hand in assignments early, reminding those who’d forgotten in the hallway.

And some students feel like the energy that binds classmates has dulled to black boxes staring at each other. Those students in the journalism program used to live for the spirited discussions in class that helped us learn from each other, instead of PowerPoint slides.

Now, when we feel like it’s too difficult, we remind ourselves that, like our first meetings around that giant table, we’ll get the hang of it.

Our teacher might freeze into blurred pixels sometimes and our class might not include whispered laughter over a cup of coffee, but the classmates we started this with are still the reason we keep going.

Every time we manage to hand in an assignment, we prove to our March 2020 selves that we can make it – even if we must start from scratch.

Years from now, when we think about our time learning during a pandemic, we won’t remember much.

We’ll remember how resilient we were, and we won’t kid ourselves by remembering that what we went through was incredibly difficult.

But most of all, we’ll remember that we started from scratch. And we’ll be glad we did.