How Distance Learning Interrupted My Last Year of College

It's a challenge to stay alert in virtual classrooms.

Distance learning has become a hot topic. That will likely continue for the immediate future as schools scramble to educate people in safe circumstances. The Wall Street Journal wrote and article titled The Results Are In for Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work.

For the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to read and listen to others’ stories regarding their experiences. Everyone’s distance learning story is different, largely depending on whether you were a student, teacher, or administrator. My classmates and I have the unique perspective of being 2 months from college graduation when the study from home mandate began.

The Shock

A few months ago I was a senior in college finishing my last semester. I was looking forward to so many things, such as walking across the stage at graduation and seeing a big smile on mom and dad’s face, getting my first real full-time job, and assuming adult responsibilities.

A lot of my classmates were looking forward to the end of their schooling. I have always felt that a college degree was just a milestone in a lifetime of learning. I love to learn. It's never over!

A few days before spring break I was packing up some of my clothes to head home, expecting to return to campus a week later. Some of my roommates were talking about a virus that was spreading across the United States. Now it's four months later and I still haven't returned to campus.

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I received an email from school stating that all classes would transition to remote learning. Many thoughts went racing through my mind. How are we going to finish half a semesters’ work on a computer? How am I going to have conversations with my professors about topics I do not understand? How engaged am I going to be watching professors on a small screen for 15 hours per week? The list goes on.

I had gone through 17 years of participation in physical classrooms, sitting in front of a teacher, listening, asking questions, and learning. Now everything completely changed in the blink of an eye. Although I didn’t disagree with the decision to transition to remote learning because the safety of the faculty and students is a priority and always should be, I feared the change and how I would adapt to it.

The Experience

Imagine being near the culmination of 17 years of work. A college degree is an important accomplishment, a key milestone as we approach the working world. All of the sudden that accomplishment is put in jeopardy!

My anxiety was at an all-time high while the faculty and administration shifted to a remote curriculum. How I was going to adjust? It was one of those situations where I felt I just had to do my absolute best with what I was given. Not only was I unsure of how it was going to go, but all the other students and professors had concerns as well.

Looking back on the whole experience I can say it went okay considering the university had to revise everything in a few days to keep the semester on schedule.

One thing specifically I struggled with was “Zoom Gloom”. The best way I can personally describe this phenomenon is that students disengage from class for lack of activity. It's not intentional or from like of desire. It's just boring! Within minutes of starting a Zoom lecture, students would be struggling to pay attention.

I'm an active participant in normal classrooms. Sitting in my attic bedroom listening to a talking head was far different. Although questions were possible, I felt like it was rude to disrupt the class. Just staying attentive and alert was a big challenge.

I like working with my classmates. They provide new and different perspectives and different ways of attacking problems. We had little opportunity to do that online.

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I greatly missed the social aspect. My last two months of college should have included a lot of connecting with people I may never see again! Not being able to connect to classmates before, after, and between classes was a loss that I can never recover.

My classmates and I have a lot of disappointments. Graduating via Zoom is quite a let down after 17 years of work. Imagine paying $20 per hour to watch a teacher talking to the camera. That's exactly what I was doing during my last two months of college. Out of state residents were paying much more!

Throughout this process I kept thinking about how many captivating things we can do with our cell phones and computers. No need to settle for bald lectures. Simply adding more interaction would invite participation and remove Zoom Gloom.

The university did a great job of coming up with a plan and implementing it quickly. For us seniors that means graduation wasn't postponed. Life can move forward.

Conclusion:

Remote education will continue to be a topic of discussion for the foreseeable future. It is imperative to put not only the students but also the teachers in the best position possible to succeed. Giving teachers and administrators the appropriate resources and technology to use for their students is essential. Students need active involvement to perform to their full potential.


Ethan Conage acquired his 2020 Bachelor of Science in Business Management from East Stroudsburg University via a Zoom commencement ceremony.