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New challenges and comforts: students discuss remote learning

By Christian Loeffler

Many professors have started using the BigBlueButton conference platform interface to interact with their classes. (Source: Loeffler)

If you're a student, chances are things are pretty abnormal for you right now.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 32.9% of undergraduate students had taken at least one distance education college course during the Fall 2017 semester while 13.3% of undergraduate students had taken only remote courses during the same time period.

Based on the these statistics, approximately two-thirds of undergraduate college students in the United States may be experiencing online college instruction for the first time due to COVID-19.

Two of these students shared their perspectives on adapting to this shift.

In regards to her experiences with online courses so far, senior biochemistry major Maura Loughran said she thinks that “they have been going okay.”

However, Loughran explained that she has lost the motivation that she had on campus.

“I guess it's just the environment of school and being around everyone doing the same thing as you that makes doing school work a lot easier,” she stated. "In my house, we have reached the capacity of ten people within a space. Between our dogs and all the people in here, it’s really difficult to find a quiet space to do my work.”

“[Online discussion] ends up becoming weird because everyone is just repeating the same thing or copying each other.” - Maura Loughran

Loughran said that her workload has significantly increased since the switch to online instruction. She also stated that worksheets have become more frequent, assignments are being graded more harshly, and that some exams have been replaced with papers instead.

Loughran explained that her Latin class no longer goes through a translation together; instead, students are left to translate texts themselves. She also said that several classes, especially Writing Designated classes, require more worksheets that would not have been assigned if classes were still in-person.

Professors have been using BigBlueButton, a web conference platform made available through Schoology.

Loughran stated that online conferences have been much shorter than regular classes, however, and that while professors are utilizing the group chat function on the side of the BigBlueButton interface, the function can limit discussion.

“[Online discussion] ends up becoming weird because everyone is just repeating the same thing or copying each other,” she explained. “It's not the most effective, but I guess you hear from more people too.”

Loughran said she was disappointed in the lack of face-to-face interaction and stated that she has noticed a divide between professor and student.

“It's just pretty much the teacher lecturing and we’re chatting on the sidebar [with] any questions,” she said.

Loughran had to give a presentation for her Senior Research Seminar II class solely via audio on BigBlueButton and said she noted a similar disconnect.

“I'm also not looking forward to it, because I don't necessarily know how they're going to give the finals.” - Maura Loughran

“You don’t know who is listening [and] you don’t get any feedback face-to-face with people,” Loughran stated. “It's sort of like this weird limbo where you talk and then you don’t know how it went [or] what happened; it's over."

Loughran explained that after finishing the last slide of a presentation, there was a long pause because a professor would not know whether the presentation was over as a result of missing body language, clapping from other students, and other non-verbal cues. However, she said, presenting was much less nerve-wracking.

Danielle Chorba, biochemistry junior, said she was unburdened by the transition to online courses and that she even favored some aspects of the switch.

“The Chemistry Department has been really helpful in trying to work with us and trying to make sure we get all the resources that we need,” explained Chorba.

Chorba said that it is harder to focus and that breaks are more frequent at home, but that the workload is about the same, if not lighter due to some of the labs not taking off until around Easter Break. She also stated she is optimistic regarding exams, basing it on several she has taken so far.

Loughran gives her presentation for Research Seminar II. (Source: Loeffler)

"I was in the comfort of my own home. I didn't feel as much pressure. It wasn't as stressful. I felt calmer and more relaxed, especially in knowing that I had more time too," Chorba stated.

Both Loughran and Chorba said they are looking forward to finals week.

Loughran said that as a commuter, she will have more time to study before exams. She also believes that exams will have a greater time limit, and said she expects final examinations to adopt longer windows of time in which a student can complete an exam, meaning that a student could choose when to start an exam within reason.

However, according to Loughran, students and even faculty are not yet certain about the format, the schedule, or even the content for final exams, so she is simultaneously dreading finals.

“I'm also not looking forward to it, because I don't necessarily know how they're going to give the finals,” Loughran stated.


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