With the status of COVID-19 constantly in flux, there have been many changes for colleges and universities nationwide. At Grand Rapids Community College students appear to be taking this disruption to their traditional routine in stride.
“So far so good but I’m still kind of in the adjustment phase,” 29-year-old general education major at GRCC, Chelsea Perry, said. “I feel like this is pretty new to myself and many other students that I know and initially I was kind of nervous about how my professors were going to handle, specifically my biology class, that I have right now because a good 50% of that is hands-on stuff.”
The bio lab that Perry was initially most concerned about has been going well. Her professor has been posting powerpoints and pre-recorded lectures.
“(My professor) is really giving us as many resources to look at the same information and to be able to do it on our own,” Perry continues, “or learn it on our own, when we are at this point in time, you know, doing everything remotely.”
Being an “old-school learner,” Perry prefers to have physical learning materials in front of her, saying that, “I think that’s going to continue to be the hardest adjustment for me.”
Olivia Kunnen, 19, is in her second year at GRCC and is majoring in psychology. She has benefitted from the responsibility of online learning.
“Surprisingly, I like it a little better,” Kunnen said about virtual learning compared to in-class. “I feel a little more independent… I feel more self-reliable.”
Kunnen notes that prior to the temporary switch to virtual learning, a lot of her homework and assignments were online, thus making it an easier transition for her.
However, Jacob Foster, 24, a psychology major transferring to The University of Michigan next semester, said he does not believe the education he’s receiving remotely is equivalent to in-class learning.
“I don’t get the relationship with the professor,” said Foster, President of GRCC’s chapter of Psi Beta and member of the Honors Program and Phi Theta Kappa. “That rapport that I built with a professor is very important. I got into The University of Michigan because I had a lot of professor recommendations because they knew me personally.”
Without having that type of interaction with professors, it is more challenging for Foster because “you miss out on some of the nuance that exists with a certain topic.”
“I pay for a class because I get to interact with someone who’s been an expert in the field for longer than I’ve been alive,” Foster said. “I definitely have not gotten the same experience.”
Although it wouldn’t be “quite the same,” Foster suggested that it would be helpful to emulate a traditional classroom setting if professors were doing Skype calls, or some such platform, to have virtual video chats with the whole class. None of his professors are currently utilizing that format.
One of Kunnen’s professors is using Zoom, an online video chat, for a virtual lecture. She has enjoyed receiving instructions this way.
“He has his video on so we can see him and he was super fun about everything and super light at it,” Kunnen said. “They’re learning with us as well, you know? Everyone’s trying to (transition) to this switch and so far, so good.”
Jordan White, 24, is attending GRCC where she is working on an associate of arts degree.
“One of my professors has been unbelievably amazing at communication,” White said. Later adding, “They’re all doing a really good job.”
Some of White’s instructors have been doing Zoom meetings and posting lectures online. Others are sticking to email and posting content on Blackboard. The communication and responsiveness of White’s professors is something she has greatly appreciated.
“As far as receiving instructions from my professors, everything has been going quite well,” White said of her experience with distance learning thus far. “They’ve been really amazing about reaching out to us.”
Nineteen-year-old GRCC freshman, Priscilla Salazar-Bont, is studying psychology and business and said that the level of communication from her professors has ranged when it comes to correspondence through regular email updates and Blackboard posting.
“I would consider one of my professors doing that,” Salazar-Bont said. “Most of them kind of just tell you, ‘Hey, this is on there (Blackboard). This is our week and then you guys can pretty much figure it out yourselves.”
Foster said that for him it has varied based on the instructor.
“It depends on the professor,” Foster said. “Some professors are giving me a lot of information. Some professors have sent like one email telling me we’re going online and nothing else which can be a little frustrating.”
Most students seem to enjoy the freedom of online learning. However, motivation to complete assignments has been challenging.
“It’s been a little tough. I’ve definitely had to change how I organize myself,” Foster explained, noting that he does better with face-to-face instruction.
The challenges that White has faced have been in regards to the new structure of learning and maintaining motivation.
“I think next week will be a little bit easier,” White said. “This week I’m finding that, ‘Oh, I’m at home for unusual amounts of time. I can do this later.’ Whereas there are still due dates and there’s still times for assignments and whatnot.”
There is a bit of apprehension about how successful students will be transitioning from an in-person class to a virtual one mid-semester.
Like Perry, White prefers hands-on learning and this transition has been challenging.
“I have always been an in-person, in the classroom, face-to-face, type student,” White said of her preferred learning style. “This change really scared me. I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it but the contact with the teachers is definitely helping.”
Salazar-Bont enjoys the freedom of online learning while recognizing it’s challenges.
“Personally, I kind of like it a lot,” Salazar-Bont said. “It’s made it super easy for me to have more time on my hands. Although, it is hard to keep up every once in a while with all of the classes.”
As a whole, Salazar-Bont believes the college has been “very helpful” and appreciates the communication that is being conveyed from the president and deans to students.
For Kunnen, the most challenging part about this switch is that “you’re used to a routine and then all of a sudden you’re pushed out of a routine.” To her, self motivation is important.
“Students that want to be in school and want to do good, I don’t think they’re going to have a problem,” Kunnen said.
Also being a student-worker on campus, Perry said that professors and bosses have “met me where I’m at” and she is thankful for their support and communication.
“It took a little bit for everyone to know what would be happening next,” Perry said, “and everyone kept their composure and just communicated very well with the different changes we are all experiencing right now.”
As is the case with a lot of students, Perry is still navigating how to find a balance.
“Now I’m faced with the challenge of being at home all the time and needing to have that same structure,” Perry said.
Perry reports that she has been regularly checking in with Blackboard and emails.
“I think I am enough of an anxious person (that) if I don’t at least check in on things online and see if new information has been posted or we’ve gotten any new notifications on things, “ Perry said. “I think that would bother me if I let it go too long.”
When asked if the education she’s receiving online is comparable to that which she got in a classroom, Kunnen was unsure.
“Kind of?” Kunnen said apprehensively. “I want to say no because I feel like when we pay for classes we get that one-on-one contact… but it’s almost easier to get that through email sometimes.”
Foster said that he has the resources he needs to be successful with online learning but is skeptical that this may not be the case for everyone.
“For me personally? Yes,” Foster said. “Do I think the information has been enough for what other students may need? I’m not so sure about that.”
Giving advice to other students adjusting to this new learning method, Perry said that people need to “commit to doing the best they can as a student and know that they’re capable of any adjustments and changes that they need to make in order to be successful.”
“We’ve all committed ourselves to a particular goal and path and we just have to stay the course the best we can,” Perry said.
Editor’s Note: We want to continue to hear from students about how their doing with the transition to online learning and balancing the your studies with concerns over the coronavirus. If you want to share you experience, you may do so in the comments below or reaching out directly to Co-Editor-in-Chief Brianna Wetherbee at firstname.lastname@example.org.