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Back to School: The Ups and Downs of Studying Photography During the Pandemic

By Scott Harrald aka @scott_harrald

Note: Currently colleges are evaluating the viability of limited in-person classes (depending on public health guidelines during this stage of the pandemic)

2020: An Interesting and Challenging Year to Go Back to School

The year of 2020 has certainly thrown us all some curveballs and challenges both personally and professionally.  But as with any challenge or hardship there is also often opportunity.  For myself, having recently retired in late 2017 after a career of almost 30 years in the Canadian Armed Forces serving with the Royal Canadian Navy, I found myself with the time to rediscover my passion for photography and explore whether I could make photography more than just a hobby.

While growing up, I always had a passion for the visual arts and photography and my early development was largely self-taught through reading photography books and magazines; my later travels throughout the world while serving with the Navy fostered this passion while discovering new destinations and experiences and wanting to document them through photography.

While the challenges of this year are undeniable with the stresses of working or schooling from home for many, work security and struggling to raise families with some semblance of pre-COVID times – some may have concluded that their careers or skills may not be best aligned with their current passions or life goals.  I personally took this time to head back to school to study photography and it would appear that I was not alone in this back to school plan as Canadian educational institutions are reporting across the board an increase in student enrolment under current COVID education delivery models that range from part to fully online, mature students and recent graduates comprise a notable component of this new cohort (https://www.macleans.ca/education/university-rankings/mature-students-ditch-lockdown-for-the-virtual-classroom).

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_image src=”https://tdot.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Scott_Harrald_Photo_Walk_Late_Fall_Nov17_2018_DSCN0077_web.jpg” alt=”The author Scott Harrald shooting at the Humber Bay in Toronto. Photo by @mikesimpson.ms” title_text=”Scott_Harrald_Photo_Walk_Late_Fall_Nov17_2018_DSCN0077_web” _builder_version=”4.7.7″ _module_preset=”default”][/et_pb_image][et_pb_text _builder_version=”4.7.7″ _module_preset=”default”]

The author Scott Harrald shooting at the Humber Bay in Toronto. Photo by @mikesimpson.ms


While somewhat daunting, I bit the bullet and returned to school full-time this past fall as a mature student in Humber College’s two year photography program.  Yes, I had many reservations.  The internet barely existed when I graduated last from university, would I be able to adapt to online education? As a mature student, what would it be like to be one of the older (questionably wiser) students amongst my cohort? Would I find the process of going back to school simply too encumbering or restrictive to a daily routine I had become accustomed to over decades of tending to a career?

Fortunately, thus far, any reservations I had have been unfounded.  As one might expect curriculum delivery has been modified in order to accommodate COVID restrictions, but as a mature student I actually find this more liberating.  In terms of Humber’s first year Photography Program, with the exception of any classes that would require you to actually have a camera in your hand to capture imagery (i.e. portraiture, commercial and printing), all classes have been moved to live online video forums.  

For me, this means that only three of my seven courses require me to attend campus and these class sizes have been reduced by 50% (to 10 persons) in order to accommodate COVID distancing restrictions as well as manage overall campus activity.  Aside from this, the routine for attending campus is pretty much what most of us have become accustomed to in our new everyday lives: respect social distancing, wear a mask and sanitize your hands.  Humber College has also implemented strict sanitization policies regarding studio and photography equipment while an online Humber COVID self-assessment questionnaire is required to be completed by all persons prior to being permitted to enter the campus.  While I feel perfectly safe attending campus, more so than going for groceries, I’ve discovered that I actually prefer not having to commute to campus to attend lectures that so far appear to be running quite well online while still allowing for class participation through both chat and verbal interaction.  With online learning there is also the added flexibility of being able to watch the recorded lectures at a later date should one not be able to attend live virtual lectures or should one wish to review lecture material.

If there is a negative, it would have to be the loss of the social interaction with classmates that would have normally occurred in a pre-COVID learning experience conducted fully on campus.  Thankfully, for all of us, it looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel with current vaccine rollouts. Perhaps fall 2021 will truly be my return to school as I remember it.

Until then, stay safe – stay healthy.

Follow Scott on Instagram: @scott_harrald

Photography by Toronto photographer Scott Harrald

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