For students at Laurentian University, online learning has long been a way to learn. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, virtual and hybrid modes of learning have not only increased in volume, but have also been enhanced. Students are now accustomed to learning both in and outside of the classroom, and this year’s cohort of PhD students in the Human Studies and Interdisciplinarity program attribute much of their ongoing academic success to the hybrid mode of learning made available to them. Said for example, Dr. Mohammad Bagher from Iran, “the hybrid method has been helpful, and if this method hadn’t been available, some of us may not have been able to participate in this class, or maybe even in this program at Laurentian.”
Dr. Hoi Cheu is this semester’s instructor of the program’s core theoretical course. In attendance are a dozen students who from various corners of the globe, have formed an incredible sense of community. Some study locally in Sudbury, but most attend virtually from other regions including Nova Scotia, Ottawa, Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie, South Korea, Iran, Nigeria and India.
To Dr. Cheu, the hybrid format of learning, supports equity of education. “We are bridging the digital divide, but more than that, the geographical divide. While some of our students are studying in Canada, others are international students. Some come from rural or remote areas. They prefer to do their research and their work near their communities. Being able to run classes in a hybrid mode turns out to be very helpful, and supports the equity of education. Being able to have live discussions online allows people who may be disadvantaged because of geographical limitation, to exchange knowledge with others. Projects can now be done and supervised remotely, all while learners remain connected to their peers. In short, we are working beyond the confines of a classroom.”
Said Julie Burtt from Ottawa: “I’m learning in a classroom with people who are becoming more than just fellow students.” Added Lima Nizami from Nova Scotia: “We’ve formed a community, in the classroom. One of the biggest advantages of having this course offered in a hybrid format is being able to learn from different minds. From different people coming from different areas and backgrounds.”
Given its interdisciplinary scope, diversity of students has always been a strength of the program, which since its establishment in January 2007, has awarded sixty-one doctoral degrees.
Though some students in this year’s cohort spoke of the desire for a return to in-person learning, as described by Monica Motamed from Iran: “We are supposed to see things from the positive point of view, so we are optimistic.” Charu Yadav from India echoed this positivity in her statement that “the hybrid method, I really think is working out very well. It’s been marvelous to learn so much and connect from different geographies and perspectives.” To Judy Binda, Garden River First Nation member from Sault Ste. Marie, being able to leverage virtual connections is beneficial for her research: “My research hinges on Indigenous inclusivity and integration, which I feel is beneficial to scholarly works. I plan to do research with Indigenous communities in Canada from the four directions of the medicine wheel teachings. Instead of having to travel, I may be able to conduct my research virtually.”
The research projects of this year’s Human Studies and Interdisciplinarity students are themselves as equally distinct as their geographic origins. Topics range from feminist architecture for Iran, wholistic Indigenous health, policies for nuclear power, multicultural industial design, and media for mental health, to name but a few.
The program’s annual Human Studies Colloquium provides the opportunity for students to share their research with their peers and other members of the community. The event typically occurs at the end of the Winter semester, in March or April.