Students experience challenges with classroom changes

During the first weeks of the fall semester, students experienced the various changes and challenges with both online and in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic firsthand. 

Before classes began this semester, faculty made significant changes to the way students would be taught in order to adhere to the federal and state guidelines. Many professors expressed concern about technological challenges but still remained hopeful that an authentic academic experience would be preserved. 

After three weeks of classes, students have experienced varying degrees of normalcy, whether they are taking classes all online, in person, or a combination of the two. 

Jacob Boord, ’24, explained that the majority of his classes are on a rotating schedule in which half of the students attend class in person while the other half attends online. This makes it difficult to remember his schedule at times, Boord said. 

“One day I could have three in-person classes and the next (day) I could have none,” Boord said. 

Students also experienced new difficulties with the online component of their classes. Online classes produce a lot of distractions, which makes online learning more challenging, Emily Mullen, ’24, said. 

“(During online classes) I feel like there are a lot of different things that you have to be thinking about. Like, is (my) microphone working? Is (my) WiFi working?” Mullen said. “In in-person classes, you can just go and the only thing you have to worry about is just being there and focusing on your work.” 

Alton Caylor, ’22, also encountered new challenges related to asynchronous learning. 

“I’ve been finding it a lot harder to learn from recorded YouTube videos. Even just digital lectures are a lot harder to focus on,” Caylor said. “There’s something really different about sitting in a classroom and listening to somebody talk. It gives you another layer of focus that is hard to get when you’re just looking at a screen.”

Boord, who takes the neuromarketing class, ECON 230: Neuromarketing and Consumer Behavior, attributed difficulty focusing on or learning from online classes to the barrier between the student and the professor. 

“I am taking neuromarketing and we kind of know and understand how the brain works,” Boord said. “That physical barrier that’s between us, which is our computer and the screen between our learning, is a huge deterrent when it comes to retaining information.” 

According to students, learning online also affects the flow and quality of class discussions. Mullen explained that the technological barrier makes it difficult to have a completely natural discussion in online classes.

“You have to unmute (your microphone), which is kind of an awkward way of speaking,” Mullen said. “Also, sometimes you might have a (small) comment like, ‘I agree with that,’ (but) you don’t really feel like unmuting yourself to say something like that.” 

With that awkwardness comes some voices not being heard in online discussions, Boord said.

“I feel some students are just nervous to turn on their camera and talk, and that’s okay,” Boord said. “But I feel as though that we lose voices and discussions are weakened, and that’s something that is a key part to our learning experience,” 

However, there are still unexpected challenges in in-person discussions as well due to the mask mandate. 

“Even in the in-person discussions with a mask on it’s hard to find that (personal) connection,” Boord said. “You can read facial expressions and you can see how into, or not into, an argument or a discussion somebody is based on their body language and I feel like, with the mask on, that’s another physical barrier.” 

Students acknowledged that their professors are likely also experiencing challenges with the new online learning components, especially if they are just becoming familiar with them. 

“I think some (professors) struggle with technology more than others. I think that’s been a bigger hurdle if you’ve been teaching the same class for the last 30 years in person, and (now it’s) completely different,” Mullen said. “I think it’s hard too, cause it’s half online and half the people are there in class (in hybrid classes).” 

However, according to Caylor, his professors are succeeding at balancing in-person students and online students in his classes. 

“I know it was a lot of work to change over to an online teaching environment. There are a lot of difficulties involved with trying to teach one group of students who might be in front of you in person and other students who are behind the screen,” Caylor said. “Personally, in my classes, I think my professors have done a really good job of integrating them together.”

Despite the challenges, professors are handling the changes well and trying their best to replicate normal classes and discussions, Boord stated.

“As much as we hate being online, (professors) hate being online (too),” Boord said.“They wish they could be in person as well. But this is an unprecedented time, as everybody likes to use that phrase. They’re doing all they can and everybody should be appreciative and thank their professors because that’s something that I feel they don’t get too often.”