Learning changes for college students pivoting to virtual instruction
Jolie Money’s best friend is her planner – that’s how she keeps track of all of her assignments and tests now that she doesn’t really have a set schedule for college classes.
“None of my classes are at a set time. They’re all kind of work at your own pace,” Money, a third-semester Wallace Community College student said about how her classes have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic remanded students home in March.
While Wallace Community College does still offer some in-person courses requiring more hands-on learning, most of its classes are strictly virtual like most colleges in the U.S.
When the first COVID-19 case was detected in Alabama, local colleges like Wallace and Troy University had to quickly adjust to provide education and resources to those enrolled in courses.
Professors were forced to pivot suddenly from teaching mostly in-person classes to providing the same quality instruction via the web. Several classes now follow a hybrid model in which part of the class is in-person and the other part is online.
They were quickly trained on how to use certain software and technologies and in-person classes have since been at least partially replaced with digital transmission of lectures, assignments, tests, quizzes and recorded demonstrations.
“These are certainly unprecedented times, but they offer us a unique opportunity ‘to rise to the occasion’ and fully live out the mission of our calling as educators,” Wallace President Linda Young said.
Troy University, on the other hand, has been a leader in online education and had much of the infrastructure necessary to easily make the transition to an online learning environment.
“So in that respect, we were in a strong position to respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic,” Troy University Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. Lance Tatum.
Troy delivered all of its classes virtually through the spring and summer and Tatum said it took a calculated and measured approach to resuming in-class instruction this fall.
“We have safety protocols in place, including mandatory face coverings inside classrooms, labs and other communal spaces,” Tatum said. “We’ve also staged classrooms to allow for social distancing, and some large classes are meeting in a hybrid in-class and online format… Overall, I have been encouraged by how our students and faculty have responded to this situation and their commitment to following our safety protocols.”
Troy offers online tutoring services and Wallace has also begun offering tutoring services for math and writing via online appointments for students needing help and instructors are meeting virtually with students via Zoom or Microsoft Teams for tutoring, advising, or conferences.
Money was previously homeschooled in high school and has had extensive experience taking responsibility for her time, but says she still misses the in-class discussion among her professors and fellow students.
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Even so, she says her professors have done an amazing job to help students continue their education journey, despite the difficult circumstances.
“Last semester, it was a shock to all of us, especially for the teachers… They have given their all to make sure we haven’t missed out on anything,” Money said. “They couldn’t have done anything better in this situation.”
In order to stay on course in her schoolwork, Money said she gives herself a routine and designates days and times to study or do assignments for certain subjects. It gives her a semblance of structure on days she sets aside to commit to schoolwork.
“Of course, I procrastinate a little bit, but I think it’s something that a lot of people struggle with. But, you have to have that self-discipline to get your work turned in on time,” Money said.
For students who do not have internet access at home, the Dothan campus continues to allow them access to internet hotspots located in designated areas in a specific parking lot on each campus. Students also have access to open computer labs on both campuses to complete work or a limited number of laptops and webcams are available for student checkout.
Trace Johnson, a first-year Wallace student, said he came from a small school where students didn’t have access to much technology.
“Going from that to completely online, it was very, very difficult. I had a few breakdowns,” he said. “My parents and teachers are very understanding. They’re still learning it while we’re learning it. I’m seeing more and more things that are good about it.”
Johnson is taking five general education classes at Wallace; most are online, which has created a challenge for Johnson, who lives in a rural area that doesn’t always get the best internet connection.
However, he said his professors have been understanding and are sometimes lenient on deadlines, which have helped him as he’s learned how to navigate all the different software and websites associated with his courses.
“At this point they’ve mastered Blackboard. All the courses are set up differently, but you can literally call your teachers and they will walk you step-by-step if you are having issues,” Johnson said.
Not only is Johnson getting the hang of online learning, he’s starting to enjoy the benefits of taking classes virtually and will likely continue to integrate online courses when he registers for classes.
“They’re pretty lenient about turn-in dates. If I was in class, I could write notes on Monday, and take a test on Wednesday. With online, they’ll extend it to maybe Thursday or Friday and those extra days of studying really helps,” he said.
He also thinks learning how to navigate online learning will help in with his future career.
“We’re advancing our technical skills. I think this is helping us be prepared for the next wave of technology,” Johnson said.
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