Students and faculty adapt to online learning environment as semester kicks off virtually

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Students move through the halls of Simon Hall between classes. (Photo by Holden Hindes/Student Life)

The University of Washington wrapped up the first two weeks of online classes of the semester on Friday, marking the first time most classes have been entirely remote since the spring of 2021. For many students, the return to remote learning meant a difficult start to the semester.

“It didn’t really feel real,” sophomore Natalie Valles said after the first week. “I already have a lot of trouble concentrating, but even more so online. It’s really easy to disconnect, to want to do something else.

Students often view the first two weeks as an opportunity to set a positive tone for the rest of the semester. With online courses, this has become more difficult.

“When it’s online, it feels like the deadlines aren’t as difficult,” Valles said. “It’s really nerve-wracking trying to figure out how I’m going to balance it all out in person because I don’t really know what it’s like to take these classes in person.”

Freshman Michael Zaslavskiy said he had “a very mixed experience” with his first online classes at the University. “Some teachers are very organized in how they present information and our tasks virtually,” Zaslavskiy said. “But then, for example, I take Comp. Sci. 132, and I just think the class organization was very poor. It was very difficult to really understand what I am doing because there are so few instructions.

The decision to conduct the first two weeks of the semester remotely was announced in an email from university leadership on December 30 in response to a national increase in cases of the omicron variant. Students were not permitted to return to campus until Friday, January 28 with no exceptions from residential life.

Sophomore Jocelyn Epstein hoped her classes would be “more relaxed” during the first two weeks of the semester due to the fact that most students would be homeschooling. However, she says, she was met with little accommodation by her teachers.

“I kind of got thrown under the bus with all my classes,” said Epstein, who primarily takes classes at the McKelvey School of Engineering. “No one was letting homework take a back seat just yet, and they didn’t seem at all concerned that we were in an environment that might not be conducive to learning.”

Some students and faculty have also faced logistical issues resulting from the shift to remote learning. Valles, who supports himself financially, was supposed to start a new job on January 17, and the prospect of losing that income caused “a lot of stress and a lot of panic” as they rushed to apply for early housing.

Dr. Emily Cohen-Shikora, a lecturer in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, struggled to balance restructuring her class into an effective online format and securing childcare for her two young children at the amid COVID-19-related daycare closures. Nonetheless, she was surprised at her students’ willingness to participate, even on Zoom.

“I’m just shocked how many students had their cameras on who were super engaged. I have almost 100% attendance in all my classes. I have almost 100% stake,” Cohen-Shikora said. “I’ve just been really, really impressed with the students who, no doubt, aren’t thrilled to sit there and be on Zoom for hours and hours, but are really, really good with engagement. .”

Dr. Elizabeth Reynolds, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of History, was also pleased with her students’ performance despite the circumstances.

“In my freshman seminar this semester, I don’t think there’s a single difference between being in class and on Zoom,” Reynolds said. “Everyone was raising their hands, everyone was talking.” However, she said it’s often just a component of first-year seminars, and in higher-level courses, like the Chinese history course she’s teaching this semester, she ” finds it harder to get people involved.” in an online format.

The impersonal nature of Zoom has certainly made it harder for some instructors, like Dr. Robert Henke, a professor in the performing arts department, to connect with students as he would in person.

“I’m a bit of a performer, you know, and I like to see how the room reacts,” Henke said. “It’s really hard on the Zoom screen to kind of see how people are taking things into account.”

At the same time, Henke said he embraced the positive aspects of e-learning, which forced him to better organize his Canvas page and enabled him to conduct interactive online surveys, a feature he could incorporate into future in-person lessons. Like Reynolds and Cohen-Shikora, Henke said turnout had been good.

Although Reynolds acknowledged that teaching online was “not as good as in person,” she said she has largely accepted it as part of living with COVID-19.

“I think, to some degree, we as a society in the United States are learning to adapt to life with COVID,” Reynolds said. “It will be part of this process of learning to adapt.”

In a follow-up email sent Jan. 26, university leaders reiterated the importance of masking and avoiding food, drink, and crowds at indoor events and “highly recommended” masks that meet ASTM Level 1 or higher. There are currently no plans to return to fully online teaching.

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