How COVID 19 Has Impacted the College Lifestyle for Students and Teachers

By: Jack Tiene

Photos: Pixabay

The impact on personal and social lives has been immeasurable, with most gatherings being limited to small numbers of people or simply banned outright.

When the global pandemic of COVID 19 began to cause an effect on the everyday lives of Americans back in March of this year, the public had no idea that in November, things would have only gotten worse. The impact on personal and social lives has been immeasurable, with most gatherings being limited to small numbers of people or simply banned outright. This has meant that for students, having classes as normal is something that can’t be done right now. What was considered to be a “quick fix” back during the spring semester of moving classes online has continued through this fall semester, and has no signs of ending any time soon. Unfortunately, most professors have been teaching the same curriculum the exact same way for years now, so moving everything online has led to them either forcing the same curriculum into a new format, where it won’t translate as well, or making an entirely new lesson plan, and trying it out on the fly. Either way it is less than ideal for students taking college level courses. 

An example of a class sticking with the same curriculum would be History 111, History of the United States since 1877 at Marymount University. It is taught by Professor Benbow, who is in a high risk group, and therefore is not holding in person classes this semester. On top of that there are no set times for synchronous classes, and instead the only assignments are 5 tests, to be taken on your own time during the week they are due. However, Professor Benbow has posted audio recordings of lectures and linked all the powerpoint he normally uses, meaning that outside of losing the ability to ask questions, the class is essentially the same as it would be otherwise, with the added bonus of not having to wake up for an 8 AM class. While there may be a fear of potential cheating in a class like this, the professor has set up the test to require students to use an application called “Respondus Lockdown Browser” which doesn’t allow the test taker to leave the testing page. This appears to be a good setup for online courses, and has required no adjustment throughout the year. 

On the other hand, Sociology 131, Principles of Sociology in Global Perspective, taught by Professor Inanoglu, has evolved
throughout the semester. To start, the class was divided into three groups, and each group would meet in person with the professor every week and a half. This was abandoned a little less than halfway through the course as not enough students were showing up. On top of this, the professor changed the way the assignments were being done, going away from discussion posts and instead having more simple questions to go with the reading. This also led to positive results, as more students began doing the homework that was being assigned. This is an example of a professor who tried to keep the same curriculum as before, despite the move to online classes, and had to make adjustments as the class continued to struggle with the change in format. 

When speaking to Brian Teixeira, a US history teacher in the Arlington school district, on the subject of how this year has been different to years prior, he said, “This year it’s a bit more streamlined because I don’t have as much instruction time with the students and having to have classes online limits the strategies I can use.” On top of that, he said, “I would actually say [the workload for me] has increased as I search for ways to make online lessons more dynamic. For the students it is less time for non-AP classes as we have been mandated to not give much homework.” This is a clear difference between high school and college classes, as the amount of homework has increased for most college students. Theo Mazarr, a student at VCU who on the subject of workload said, “”I’m definitely spending more time on school this year and the assignments are definitely more complex.” Obviously there is a difference between high school students and college students, but the fact that high school students are mandated to get less work, while college students are getting assigned more things means both of them can’t be right on the best way to handle online schooling. On top of that, while Teixeira says, “[I’m] meeting with each class twice a week for 80 minutes each and providing instruction and then they do have asynchronous work to complete.” Mazarr says, “On most days I’ll only have 1-2 live online classes, with the rest being strictly on blackboard so most days I’m teaching myself all the material given.” Teixeira said, “In my regular US History class I decided to spend more time in class helping them get their assignments done because they were not finishing homework.” This is again another example of a teacher recognizing that there was a problem with the way they were teaching things, and made an adjustment before it was too late to do anything about it. Looking beyond this year, I asked both of them whether they feared a potential gap in knowledge for students taking classes right now, and yet again they gave different answers. Teixeira said, “A little bit but we are still covering a great deal of material.” and Mazarr said, “Definitely, I think online classes are giving students all the wrong opportunities to pass their classes without actually learning any of the material. It feels like we’re just handing in assignments.” Clearly this is an issue that is unavoidable given the current world events, but ignoring the problems of college education in this setting should not be acceptable.

Another student I talked to was Grady McCrery, who would have been a freshman this year, but decided to stay home and take classes online at NOVA Community College instead. When asked about why he made that decision, McCrery said, “COVID had an impact” although made it clear that it wasn’t the only reason. He had been accepted into South Carolina, but decided it wouldn’t be worth the money. That being said, when asked about where he saw himself for the fall semester back in March before the pandemic really began to affect our lives, he said, “I thought I would be at South Carolina right now.” This has also changed McCrery’s future, as he is planning on returning to NOVA for online classes next year as well. Even though this was just meant to be a sort of gap year for McCrery, a chance to pick up credits and reapply to schools like Wisconsin and Virginia Tech, it has become the new future, and without COVID-19, we can’t be sure that would have been the case. 

Lastly, there is the topic of social interaction. College is typically considered to be a place for people of like minded interests and of a similar age group to get to know each other and grow over four years of taking classes and hanging out together. When asked about the subject of making friends in classes, Mazarr said, “Being that I’m not in any in-person classes, I haven’t talked to many people in my actual classes.” On top of that, when asked about what he missed most from teaching in person classes,  Teixeira said, “Seeing and interacting with students and making a real human connection.” Lastly, an anonymous student at Marymount said, “I couldn’t name more than 5 people in any given class, there is virtually no communication among students anymore.” With Marymount University, one of the main selling points is the small class size, which one would assume should lead to more student interaction and involvement, as they aren’t just one of 200 kids in an auditorium listening to a professor lecture about a topic while they silently take notes. Instead it should be a place where students are involved in the lesson, where they are not only talking to the professor but amongst themselves, creating bonds that could lead to friendships. Instead we are reverting back to that classic lecture format, where students sit silently and try their best to not drift off while a professor speaks to them through a computer.

From all of these facts one thing is clear. The college lifestyle is something that has not been maintained through this COVID-19 pandemic, and could lead students to turn away from a higher level education when they otherwise would not have. It is crucial that we return to normal as quickly as possible as soon as it is safe to do so, before the academic careers of millions of students could be altered forever. In the meantime though, teachers and professors need to make sure they are making the necessary changes to their courses when things are not running smoothly, like Professor Inanoglu and Mr. Teixeira did, rather than deciding to commit to a system that doesn’t translate well from in person classes to online courses. 

Unfortunately, new data suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic is only getting worse, with what appears to be a third wave beginning now, and odds are classes will not return to business as usual for the spring semester. Only time will tell whether teachers and professors will learn from the failures of this fall semester. If you want to participate in a poll for students on the quality of education you’ve experienced this semester there is a link to an anonymous survey below. 

Click here to participate in the poll

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