Like most everyone else, it seemed as if everything I knew changed overnight when COVID-19 hit in March 2020. My everyday schedule, which consisted mostly of going to school – the place I felt most safe and comfortable – was ripped away just like that, with little warning aside from the whispered rumors that were spreading around campus. This was just the start of what would be the most difficult semester I had ever experienced.
When all of this first started, my initial reaction was anxiousness and complete shock. The week before campus closed, I couldn’t concentrate on any of my classes. I was just trying to plan for so many unknowns, trying to be a support for other students, trying to hold it all together through the worry. As I sat in my classes, I did what I could to hold back my tears as thoughts overwhelmed me. Questions were flowing through my mind that I didn’t really have many answers to: How am I going to access the technology I need? What will an online class look like? Will I still be able to work? What if I can’t afford rent? How long will this last? If I get sick, will I be able to get treatment without healthcare? And so many more questions became all consuming. Among these anxious thoughts and unknowns, my professors’ voices began to blend in the background and sound much like the teacher from Charlie Brown. It was as if I was there in class, but not really there at the same time.
Our school had a week-long break between our last in-person class and the start of online instruction to allow staff and professors time to transition online. Since I work on campus as well, I also had the opportunity to go on campus for work-related trainings. I was very thankful for this time because it gave me the opportunity to make plans for the coming weeks, as well as say goodbye – an opportunity most other students did not have. Although that week away from classes was appreciated, it did put us students behind in our classwork. Even with a week of preparation time for our professors, being thrust as a student into online learning with limited support and no clear expectations of how to best be an online student, led to a chaotic learning experience at best.
In my classes, I had some professors who transitioned to online seamlessly while others left students on our own to teach ourselves. In some classes, we were assigned the same work as usual or even less, while in other classes, we were assigned a significantly heavier workload, adding to the stresses of the current situation. Some classes were very lenient in their policies; some were not. For me, some classes became overwhelming, and some were more manageable.
During this time, it took everything in me to keep from giving up completely. I was scared and exhausted, felt completely alone, and didn’t know if I could keep up in this new online format. Furthermore, COVID- 19 intensified the lack of basic needs security in regards to food, housing, and finances in my life, and has made achieving my goals much more challenging than before. However, as the world around me stopped, I needed to find a way to keep going, make sure I could pass my classes, and attend to all of the other responsibilities and worries placed upon me because of this situation.
As time went on, I began to settle into this new way of studying and communicating with professors by finding what worked for me and what didn’t. I created an organizational system for myself and a new school routine. As campus resources started becoming available again, and as I learned to reach out and connect more, things improved. However, even with my new skills, COVID-19 online learning was still difficult to navigate. At times, it felt as if professors didn’t understand. There were many times when it was hard to focus and my grades dropped significantly in some classes. There were still many unknowns and most of the time school was not my first priority. Being a student is hard, but being a student through a global pandemic is even more difficult.
Hopes for the Future
As we prepare for a new semester of online learning, it is my hope that students, faculty, and staff will work together to support each other in creating an ideal online learning environment and make it through these challenging times. While no professor is going to have the perfect solution, looking back on last semester, here is some advice from my student perspective on what may help make learning online more optimal for both students and professors.
- Flexibility/Understanding: Flexibility and understanding are essential in my opinion to online learning. Life happens: The internet crashes, family or roommates get sick, you accidentally click on a test at 12:30am that you haven’t studied for while looking for another assignment (definitely not a personal experience at all). There are so many things that can potentially go wrong in the online format. Recording lectures, allowing students multiple attempts on assignments, having consistency, and, overall, working with students to find a solution can all be extremely helpful.
- Access for all students: Not all students have the same access to technology or the same learning styles and needs. Being mindful and adapting classes based on a student’s access to certain technologies and their need for academic accommodations due to documented disabilities can allow for an online class to be in reach of every student.
- Trust/Communication: Guilty until proven innocent, that is the approach many professors have taken in regards to addressing cheating in online courses. When a human is assumed to be guilty, with no explanation other than “I know you all are cheating, so you must do all these things to prove you are not,” it is demoralizing and can cause students to shut down in class. By setting clear expectations, through explaining and communicating with students from the beginning, students and instructors will be more likely to be on the same page. Approaching those suspected of cheating individually instead of making the assumption that the whole class is cheating, may aid in creating an environment built on trust. Open communication, clear expectations, and a relationship built on trust help students to know what to expect from us.
- Empathy/Kindness/ Patience: While delivering content knowledge is important, teaching is about much more than that. It also involves addressing the social-emotional needs of students. Both professors and students can relate to experiencing varying emotions through this time. Listen to students, and check-in with us if you can, because we need to know our professors are there and that they care. We need to know that you are human too and that we can come to you if the class gets too overwhelming for us to handle on our own. There have been many times that I have had to shut my camera off in class, have a good cry, and come back. We are living through unprecedented times, and now more than ever it is important to have empathy, kindness, and patience.
The near future is still filled with many unknowns. Nobody feels good about that. However, if we can see past our educational roles and connect as people, we will be able to support one another through these difficult times. I hope this is helpful going into the next semester and that everyone stays healthy and well .