By Brianna Male
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
It is a weekday morning. You hear your alarm go off and you reluctantly get out of bed.
Your typical morning routine has changed. You find yourself at home getting ready to sit behind a screen all day. Part of your new daily routine is checking emails as frequently as you check social media.
Seeing a new notification on a school app like Canvas previously caused some annoyance for students, but now it has become overwhelming. This is all unchartered territory, regardless of your status at a school. With this dramatic switch to online learning, many may find their stress levels rising as more things change. This is now something students across the United States have to come to terms with. It is the “new normal,” and many are adjusting to it in different ways.
It certainly is a change from having to wake up, get ready, and drive to campus or walk to class. Now students can attend school in their pajamas; not like that was stopping some of them before the pandemic. Regardless, the setting for learning has without a doubt changed. Instead of being in a full classroom, now it is just you and your laptop against the world, sitting in your bedroom listening to your professor talk through the speaker.
Prior to this conversion to online learning, I would have to take all the books I needed for the day with me since I commute. This meant stuffing my backpack until it looked like it was ready to burst at the seams on days I had more than three classes. Now I can conveniently grab my textbooks and notebooks off my bookshelf, as necessary. Before I just packed all my textbooks for the day, because I was not sure if they would be needed. Most of the time I noticed that the books were not used in classroom instruction but, with my luck, that one day I would not pack them, they would actually be useful. Fortunately, now I will always be prepared for an online lecture, because my books are just three steps away (my back is pretty happy about it, too).
In a normal classroom setting there are always going to be distractions like the person in front of you taking a selfie on Snapchat and momentarily blinding you because they accidentally left the flash on. Now students have to worry about the occasional family member yelling in the background or your dog barking at the UPS man delivering toilet paper, because there was none left at the store. That student is probably sitting there in fear, hoping that the mic did not pick up those noises for the rest of the class to hear.
By that student, I meant me; this has happened to me on more than occasion, unfortunately. I am sure many of my fellow students have fallen victim to a similar situation like this. This whole scenario in itself is unsettling, but universities are trying to make it manageable.
Students are trying to deal with this as best as they can, but many students who dorm feel like they have been uprooted. Many went away to school to get the college experience and develop as an adult away from home. Now, countless dormers are finding themselves being back at home, doing their work there like it is high school all over again.
“I honestly don’t think I am truly learning a lot. I feel like I am just going through the motions to get a grade. I think that it’s one thing when you decide to take a class online that is designed to be online, but all of my classes were meant to be delivered in person,” said Alyssa Gara, a college dormer.
This change in learning was abrupt and clearly not ideal for some students and professors across the nation. COVID-19 currently is a curveball that left many feeling underprepared and overwhelmed.
Some professors are familiar with teaching courses online, while others are not as lucky.
One professor at Niagara University who has taught classes online before is Dr. James Kling, associate professor of management. Now he, along with countless other professors, have transitioned their in-class lectures to online.
“In general, I am not a big fan of online education. I think it has to be the right student; somebody who is self-disciplined. You have to have a professor who is working with the tools correctly and is organized in a way that makes online education work. I think some topics are better than others for distance education. I think, if those three things don’t come together, it’s often a much less valuable experience for a student,” Kling said.
Professors all across the U.S. are trying to make this transition to online learning as effective as possible despite little to no time to plan. Both professors and students are trying to recreate some semblance of the college learning style they had prior to the virus. It may be difficult at times, but many are trying to make the best of the scenario.
“I have found right now, in this situation, that at least in my classes it’s working pretty well. I may be fortunate to be teaching business and classes in supply chain, and the topics are very relevant to things that are happening, so my students seem very engaged. I am very engaged. I am working long hours, but everything I am doing is kind of interesting,” Kling said.
Many students are coming to the realization that, for some of their classes, this new learning model is not conducive to an effective learning atmosphere. For some of their other classes, it is not too big of an adjustment.
“I would say I enjoy it more than normal school, but it’s also challenging to keep yourself accountable and do everything. I try to keep up to the best of my ability and find time for the work,” said Emily Milleville, a college sophomore.
Being a college student already comes with its own challenges. Students are now facing additional challenges with most, if not all of their classes being put online. Taking multiple classes can have a hefty workload and keeping track of all the assignments and due dates can be tasking. Having classes physically on campus can be a nice reminder of when work is due, but now it is easy to lose track of what is due when. This can be especially difficult if professors are making changes to the syllabus to accommodate this new learning style.
Before the pandemic, I would say I checked my emails at least twice a day. Now I find myself checking them every time I pick up my phone, not to mention the increase in Canvas notifications that I have been receiving. I do not think one day has gone by where I have not gotten a notification on Canvas that said something along the lines of “Assignment Created,” “Assignment Due Date Changed,” “New Files Added for the Course” or “Course Announcement.”
Prior to online learning, I typically knew if there was going to be some sort of change in a particular course, because the professor would say it in person. Now, it is starting to feel like a game of dodgeball where you are the only one left for your team, and the other team has all the balls.
This online learning certainly is not favorable to some majors that require more hands-on learning, especially for students in the science department who need lab time.
Nursing student Paige West is all too familiar with this new reality.
“I hate it. I did not sign up for online classes for a reason. I know that I do not learn well unless I can be hands on and interactive with material, but I guess there is not a way around it right now. I am concerned on how we are supposed to return to the nursing labs and get tested out on what we are learning when we can’t practice the skills in person and ask questions,” West said.
Everyone’s learning is being impacted in different ways, but this is certainly not an easy adjustment for everyone. Some do not mind this change in learning, while others are feeling like it has been hindered.
“Clinical is supposed to be the most hands-on portion of learning and we can’t even do that. I feel like that has had the most impact on my learning.” West said.
Many students’ lives are changing during this crisis.
It is highly important to try and stay organized, even if students are starting to feel discouraged. They need to be confident that they are not in this alone, because there are countless others feeling the same way. Many schools are trying to make their students feel supported throughout this whole process.
Each day during the school week, Niagara University’s Academic Success Center sends online learning tips via email.
One of the first tips was “Develop a routine. This is key! When you were on campus and attending classes, your routine revolved around going to classes in person. Now that you’re studying from home, it’s vital to establish a new routine – and stick to it. Continue to structure your life around your coursework.”
Before the transition to online learning, there was a separation between a student’s school life and home life. The two worlds are now colliding and, despite all efforts to have a new, productive routine, many students still find themselves struggling.
“It’s very hard to focus on schoolwork and class while at home all the time,” said Jessica Robertson, a sophomore in college.
“I set up my desk in my room like how my desk at college was. I make myself a daily checklist with the most important tasks I have to accomplish for the day. I do find it a lot harder to focus, though, and tasks that would take me no time at all take me hours now,” Gara said.
In all honesty, I feel like I have had to retrain my brain during this whole process. For 16 years of my life, I was so used to going to school, learning there, and having extracurricular activities and even work as I got older afterward. Now, countless other students and I learn and teach ourselves new material at home.
If you have ever seen “SpongeBob” before, right now I feel like SpongeBob in that one episode where his brain is so overloaded that the “office” in his brain starts on fire.
Normally, I am an organized person, but I feel like someone just threw a wrench into years of good habits I had practiced.
There is no question that things are different now. Students and professors can try to recreate the previous learning environment, but that does not change the fact that essentially nothing is the same. Online video conferences or PowerPoints with audio are the new in-class lectures.
Despite this, many universities are encouraging students that the spring semester is going to carry on as normal as possible.
“As we navigate through this complicated situation, we are committed to doing what is necessary to ensure that every Niagara student – both at the undergraduate and the graduate level – receives the support they're counting on and the opportunities to pursue and achieve their spring 2020 academic objectives.” said Dr. Tim Ireland, the academic vice president and provost at Niagara University, in an email to students.
This spring semester has been a whirlwind to say the least, and it is not over yet. Final exams and final papers are all approaching quickly. Students will not have to worry about arriving at the exam room early, or having a sharp No. 2 pencil, but that does not take away the importance of the tests.
None of this has been overly easy, but it just has to be taken one step at a time.
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