Image Credit: Lindsay Garbacik for The Campus Trainer
Many students had never heard of Zoom before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, yet now it has become a key part of many people’s daily routines. Numerous professors and students had never experienced online classes before last semester, so there has been a learning curve for everyone.
In order to de-densify the campus and decrease the amount of in-person interaction, the University of Maryland is holding only 15% of undergraduate classes in-person. It is prioritizing smaller classes, labs and more hands-on courses in face-to-face classroom settings.
For the first two weeks of the semester, all courses were online, so even if they have some in-person courses now, all students had to adapt to a fully online course load during that time.
Matt Shea, a freshman journalism major, did not expect his college experience to begin in this challenging way, but has found some benefits to his virtual courses.
“There’s a little less stress. You don’t have to walk from class to class, you don’t have to worry about being late,” Shea said.
Laura Pappas, a sophomore kinesiology major, acknowledged that completing courses in her room allows her to multitask and have more flexibility in her schedule, though she still misses how her classes were in previous semesters.
“I also really did enjoy walking to and from class, so being stuck in one spot, being on your Zoom classes is definitely more difficult,” Pappas said.
In a September 10 email, University of Maryland President Darryll Pines explained that the university is taking numerous precautions and measures to keep students safe. He believes that resuming in-person classes is safe and necessary to improve students’ educational experience.
“This represents a small, but important step toward pursuing the full richness of a University experience that comes from an on-campus environment where a community of scholars, students and staff unite for an academic, research, residential, social, and athletic experience.” Pines said in the email.
Even with this recent adjustment, most students still rely on Zoom and online platforms for their courses. According to a CNN article, Zoom’s revenue skyrocketed 169% from 2019 to 2020, which was a gain of $328 million in revenue over the course of February, March and April of 2020. In June, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said he continued to see an increased number of users. This trend will likely continue as the pandemic persists.
This significant increase in users indicates that many people are new to Zoom during this pandemic, which may cause technical challenges during class. This would make it more difficult for professors to teach and for students to learn.
“Some people click the wrong link and some people are stuck in the waiting room, so it takes a while to get in, and class actually starts after when you would ideally want it to start,” Shea said.
Additionally, discussion and collaboration are cornerstones for many college courses, but may be more difficult to replicate on an online platform.
“It’s not as easy to participate. Like a lot of these classes have participation points and sometimes you’ll be talking over someone or you have to use the ‘raise your hand’ feature,” Pappas said.
In addition to the difficulties that students face, professors have had to adapt their courses, which they may have been teaching for years, into a brand new format. Journalism professor Carole Lee believes this challenge has been beneficial for her, because it pushes her to reevaluate her course and constantly improve it.
“It’s demanding that we all be a little bit more creative, and infuse some new ideas into the way that we teach and assess in every class,” Lee said.
Due to the stresses and unknowns of this pandemic, Lee has adopted the philosophy that the course load does not need to be as demanding in order for her to teach effectively. Also, in her online courses, she has created new assessments, implemented more icebreaker activities for students and found a new balance between discussions and lectures.
“I don’t think any of us will teach the same again,” Lee said. “I definitely would want to translate back into the classroom some of the things that have worked here.”
Students and professors will face online classes for the rest of the semester and possibly next semester as well. They will continue to learn the best ways to work together to create the most positive learning experience possible, given our current circumstances.