Ryerson students are learning new skills while social distancing

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By Sarah Tomlinson

When she’s not attending zoom lectures for creative enterprises, Vyllana Nguyen, a fourth-year creative industries student at Ryerson, pulls out a bag of flour and her oven mitts to tackle her newest baking challenge. 

Nguyen said she started learning new recipes, and improving her cooking and baking skills, during her newfound free time at home during the COVID-19 crisis. 

“My friends and I are even swapping recipes and cooking tricks because what else can we do when we’re cooped up in our own homes,” she said. 

On March 13, Ryerson announced that classes would begin to move to online formats in response to COVID-19 and that all exams would now be conducted by alternate methods to avoid in-person contact. 

Now that Nguyen  doesn’t have to commute two hours to get to school or work—which is closed— she says learning something new helps her find a purpose for her free time.

During the school year, full-time students don’t necessarily have time to learn skills because they have deadlines to meet, pressure to get good grades and even part-time jobs, she says. 

“Now that we’re practically forced to stay inside, it’s a good opportunity to ground ourselves and redefine who we are with our likes and dislikes,” said Nguyen. 

Lexlie Broyles has been an independent academic coach for over three years and works with university students diagnosed with a disability. According to her, trying new things can help people stay positive when they are filled with doubt and confusion. 

“All too often we get wrapped up in things we don’t have much control over, causing anxiety and stress. Like the current situation we are in, it can be quite scary and overwhelming. But worrying won’t help,” she said. “Enjoy what is around you! In our society today, most of us stay busy and we hardly get the chance to press pause. I have been encouraging my students to see the good in this extra time.”

In addition to keeping busy with new hobbies and skills, Broyles said students shouldn’t neglect their school work. 

She advises students to check their email and online platform twice a day and to re-read any articles, notes, assignments or past exams. 

“Since everything is so up in the air, we don’t know if, when or how classes will start back up. Staying prepared is very important so that when life does go back to normal or modifications are made to continue classes, they aren’t behind and haven’t lost what they have learned,” she said. 

While learning a new skill may be therapeutic to some, it’s important to not feel pressured to do so, said Sydney Tran, a learning and transition facilitator at Ryerson.  

As some students find themselves with more free time than they’re used to, Tran recommends students checking in with themselves to see if they have an equal amount of free “brain space.”

According to Tran, students struggling to cope with the global crisis might not have the mental capacity to learn new skills at first. “Our social and global context is changing so quickly, and processing that can take up a lot of emotional and intellectual room.”

Nevertheless, Nguyen said free time is the perfect opportunity to cook and bake things she’s been meaning to do for a while. 

“My favourite thing to bake is anything that has custard. Crème brûlée, tarts, custards fillings for profiteroles, anything like that,” she said. “It’s a nice break from studying. I get to focus on something that’s not academic, and I get a treat at the end too.” 

Because of the in-class cancellations, Nguyen has also gone back to playing piano and violin. 

“I never had the time during the year because I practically spend all my days at school, but now that I’m home I can go back to doing things that I’ve put on hold for so long,” she said. 

For Lorenza De Benedictis, a second-year film student, the extra time at home has allowed her to start learning morse code. 

“I always wanted to learn a language. I’m Italian so I always wanted to learn Italian but I’ve never actually been able to learn it to the point where I can speak,” she said. “I figured most morse code is like a language of its own.”

She said she has been learning it for over a week through a vinyl record purchased at a record store near Ryerson. 

“It’s been so difficult to put it into my routine because I have to do so many things for school,” she said.

Although it’s only a hobby for her, De Benedictis said learning something new while social distancing has a positive impact on her. 

“We learn so much at school. But sometimes, when you’re learning the same thing over and over again, you want something that’s different than your program,” she said. 

Some students, however, are facing challenges in fostering the skills they would like during this time. 

Alexandra Enrile, a fourth-year arts and contemporary studies student, said she’d like to perfect her baking, but she can’t because she doesn’t have the necessary ingredients and doesn’t want to leave her house. 

“As long as a new skill doesn’t require any new resources or need to leave the home, it’s one worth pursuing,” she said. “I, for one, wanted to make shortbread cookies today, but decided against it due to it requiring all of the butter in my household.” 

According to an article published by Global News, shelves are running low at several Ontario grocery stores and lines up can take up to 45 minutes. 

As a result, some students are choosing to learn skills that don’t require physical resources. 

Antonia Pang, a second-year engineering student, is using the extra time to take free online courses related to her field, like data science and manufacturing. She finds the courses on Coursera, an online platform that offers free and paid courses, specializations, professional certificates and online degrees taught by instructors.  

“I’ve always liked broadening my scope and I think that the extra time from no commuting and the transition is a great opportunity for me to do so,” she said. 

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