How are your “online” classes?

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Brady Brunch…class edition
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Sigh…online classes…the end of my college career and they were one of the most popular topics of conversation other than COVID-19 the past few months…

While on my spring break trip to Florida, I found out that Juniata College was going to take an extended break and start virtual classes until the beginning of April in hopes that all of this would blow over. When we returned, I packed up things from my apartment that I thought I would need for the next few weeks.

One week later, on March 17th, we received an email that not surprisingly, Juniata was going to transition to remote learning for the remainder of the semester. Although this was not much of a surprise, it was still not easy to come to terms with. I moved out of my apartment the following week. ☹️

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Transition Online

Now, I would be failing my coach if I did not make this point on my blog. What we did was “emergency remote teaching” and NOT online classes. Online courses take a lot of planning, they integrate various methodologies for teaching, and implement multiple platforms or activities for interacting. Although online classes exist in many higher education institutions, such as Juniata, they are only utilized by some subjects or educators for certain classes. Therefore, a transition to EVERY class with EVERY professor is a drastic change and cannot be compared to true online education. Huge shout out to Justine Black, Juniata’s Director of Digital Learning and my coach, for being a leader in making this remote instruction possible!!!

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Juniata Online: an unofficial look inside with 63 anonymous survey participants

Disclaimer: this is not a real study…just me…being curious. Therefore, proper sampling technique and etiquette was NOT followed. I paraphrased all results but if you were one of my respondents and do not want something you said on here, let me know and I will remove it!

I would like to say I think that overall my professors did an incredible job meeting students needs and providing quality education. Students were also given the flexibility to change their courses to pass/no pass. However, I was not taking many courses and wanted to know how my peers were feeling.

I did a survey halfway through this experience to see how other students felt. This gave me a new feeling of connection because as a student body, we had lost our camaraderie. I was no longer sitting in the dining hall listening to the complaints or victories from my friends, teammates, or even the table I was eavesdropping on because lets be honest, we all do it at least once.

I received 63 responses out of the potential ~1,500 students and I asked 8 questions, including free response. So this really is only a small portion of what really happened and the school has received its own survey data since, but like I said, I needed that connections with my peers.

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The Results

Have your professors been accommodating with attending classes and turning in assignments?

Roughly two-thirds said “yes” and one-third said “kinda”. Less than 5 respondents said “no”.

Most things went well: Majority of responses were positive. Most professors were incredibly understanding, allowing for flexibility with due dates and not giving penalties for late work. For students who could not connect with class via Zoom, professors provided recorded videos.

Some things could have improved: Some students did not find that their professors were being understanding and there was not much discussion about due date flexibility. One student found mandatory group work difficult to do in this situation and with slow WiFi. It was noted that as students, our living situation changed completely, which depending on the nature, could make finishing our courses more difficult. For example, taking care of siblings. Also, some students are essential employees and might have picked up more demanding work hours.

Someone even just noted that it was horrible, which I can infer as that the whole situation was just overall unsavory.

It is also important to note that students work differently. I personally prefer due dates because they keep me on track and some students need that structure to stay on task. However, some students may really just need more time because they have too much going on in their situation or even mentally. I think that it was difficult for professors to find the balance between being too strict and being too lenient.

“What Juniata faculty or staff have been the most helpful during this? What have they done?”

To name a few: Dr. Muth and Dr. Grant sent uplifting messages and fun science updates. Dr. Matter did his best to make a lab an online course. Dr. Amy Mathur helped her students by lightening their load and sending out weekly Huntingdon updates. Dr Weimer, Dr Worley, Dr Streb, Dr Kruse, Dr. Bennett, Dr. Poole, and Dr. Peters were all accommodating and reached out to students. Dr. Dunwoody and Dr. Gentile provided extensions when needed. Shannon Cotrell, Lauren Perow, and Dr. Sarah Jane DeHaas also all checked in on students. Bethany Benson got creative and sent her ceramic students a gray play dough recipe. Dr. Lynn Cockett involved students in navigating the new learning environment, asking for feedback to better accommodate students. Blair Cutright continued supporting students by helping make schedules for at home productivity. Kathy Baughman reached out to each of her classes and seniors individually to offer support.

Additional shout outs to: All ceramic professors, Tammy Stuber, Dr. Pletcher, Ryan Gibboney, Jared LaGroue, Jacoba Rock, Justine Black, Molly Thompson, Dr. John Bukowski, Dr. Welliver, Dr. Matt Powell, Dr. Keeney, Dean Damschroder, Dr. Johnson, Jon Cutright, Patty Klug, Dr. James Tuten, Dr. Barlow, and Provost Bowen.

Have your classes changed drastically?

About one-third said “yes”, half said “kinda”, and only about 20% said “no”. Majority of students had drastic changes in their courses.

Things that changed: There seemed to be a lack of a schedule. The amount of work to turn in changed, due to syllabus adjustments or lack of ability to perform tasks online. Classes became less hands on and there was no opportunity for field work. Asking questions during lectures became difficult and the quality of some lectures decreased. There was less group discussion. Some assignments became more time intensive, it felt like busy work, and there was more writing instead of presenting. Assessment formats were altered. Formats of entire classes changed. Final projects were removed or altered. It was noted that some professors did not hold classes and instead just gave assignments while corresponding with students through email. Software used in some courses changed completely due to lack of access at home. Many courses were also removed from their physical resources such as labs and studios. And overall, students felt less engaged.

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What advice would you give a professor or a student in this situation?

“Be willing to answer questions over zoom, even if that means setting aside a discussion period outside zoom class periods.”

“Make a routine and stick to it.”

“Please understand our situations and how difficult it is to work at home. A lot of us don’t have desks even at home which means we have to work at kitchen tables/bedrooms, which doesn’t allow for very efficient studying.”

“Be prepared for problems because it is technology.”

“Be kind and understanding of one another and the positions that we’re in.”

“To be patient and understanding that everyone’s situation is unique.”

“Don’t overcompensate…focus on content, rather than additional materials.”

“Be patient! Everyone’s trying to figure out how to navigate this situation.”

“I would tell a student to plan their day as if they’re at campus. Don’t try to do too much in a day because it’s less likely you’ll do it. Break down your work on a Monday-Friday schedule like it would be at school. Find a quiet space where you can do your work and be patient with yourself.”

“Just keep pushing. Reach out when you need help. You are not alone.”

“Keep your head up and we’ll keep working together. It will be okay.”

“Focus on your mental health.”

“Prioritize self-care. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health and more important than schoolwork.”

“Always communicate with your professors they are here to help if you need it.”

“Be lenient but keep your students accountable. They need to still turn in homework, but this is a stressful time so maybe if it’s a day late you can still accept the homework for full credit.”

“Give each other some slack during these difficult times.”

“I know this isn’t ideal, but it’s a global pandemic please be understanding to the fact that this is completely unprecedented and nobody trust knows the correct course of action yet.”

Anything else you want to say about the switch to online classes? (other than this sucks)

“It’s sucks a lot.”

“It is very tough to stay focused being home; it’s very hard to stay motivated.”

“Though I do wish I was on campus, I think Juniata has done a great job with this adjustment because it is not easy and nobody was prepared for a situation like this.”

“Can’t wait to be back on campus.”

“This is the future. Get used to it.”

“It’s working out better than I thought it would, but it is definitely not equal to being taught in person.”

How are you socializing with friends from campus?

I wanted to add this question because I was curious as to how people are connecting with campus.

Conclusion:

Overall, it went pretty well. I mean it could have gone a lot worse, but I think we have built a resilient community at Juniata that was able to withstand the changes. Obviously, we hit some bumps in the road, but as many of my peers pointed out, no one really knew what was the right thing to do. In my opinion, Juniata did as well as or even better as many of the other institutions put in similar situations (from what I heard from friends and the internet).

Unprecedented and other overused adjectives…

This was definitely not ideal. The college responded as best as it could, we all did as best as we could. Given the circumstances, I am overall pleased with how the semester worked out, the performance of my professors, and myself.

I also hope this never has to happen again, so abruptly as it did.