Ottawa resident expands her world through online courses

When the pandemic began, Patricia Roth felt her world shrink to the walls of her Ottawa home. She’d been enjoying classes for older learners at her local university since retiring eight years ago. But she was left out of luck when the campus shut down. Then a close friend in Vancouver handed Patricia a lifeline: she told her SFU’s Liberal Arts and 55+ program had moved its courses online.

Patricia registered for her first course in 2020, and has been back again and again. She’s now taken at least half a dozen online courses at SFU, tackling meaty topics ranging from truth and reconciliation to international rights to the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt.

“I’m very much into current events and political science,” explains Patricia. “What I really like about SFU is that the courses have more of an academic and intellectual bent.”

A former human resources professional, Patricia studied sociology in university and later completed a master’s in organizational conflict resolution when she was in her forties. As her parents had lived through the trauma of the Second World War, she says she’s always had a strong awareness of world events. Her interest only grew once she retired, as she had more time to read and dig deeper into global issues.

“I’m always paying attention to the news, following what’s going on,” she says. “I find it interesting that one can tend to think things are really bad right now, but when you look at different periods of history, there have been many times when things were really bad, followed by periods of flourishing, which helps to keep events in context.”

While Patricia says she can understand why many learners prefer “lighter” fare like music and art, she’s grateful that SFU also offers more challenging topics.

“As hard as it can be sometimes,” says Patricia, “I think being knowledgeable and engaged with the world is extremely important.”

Of course, she admits, there’s only so much heavy news one person can handle. “There are times when I just need to tune out,” she explains. “I’ll take a walk and feel so grateful for what we have, for living in Canada, for being able to take these courses and have a good life. We’re extremely fortunate.”

Although the courses at SFU marked her first experience with online learning, Patricia had no trouble adjusting. Not even the time difference between Vancouver and Ottawa deterred her from joining each course’s Zoom sessions. So, when the Liberal Arts and 55+ Program announced it would be bringing back in-person courses, she was quick to speak up.

“I love the online format and would recommend it in a heartbeat,” she says. “I actually wrote to the program administrators to say I hope they’ll keep the online courses going.”

Like everyone else, Patricia says she’s had to make adjustments to her everyday life since the pandemic began. “I’m being very careful, and I don’t plan to go back to in-person learning anytime soon,” she explains. “But I do have to keep learning and using my brain.”

Since signing up for the program’s mailing list, she now looks forward to seeing what’s on offer each term. Patricia may not yet know what she’ll be learning next, but she’s certain about one thing:

“I plan to keep doing this for as long as I’m functioning and able—which will hopefully be for a long time.”

By Kim Mah