During these unprecedented times, many aspects of our social, professional and academic lives have gone virtual. For students this includes virtual events, virtual recruiting fairs and virtual interviews.
While at first glance it may be a college student's dream to hear, “School is closed!”, it is a life-changing adjustment to go from the in-person classroom to the virtual classroom. Many universities and colleges have closed their dorms dispersing the student population across the country back to their homes where study conditions are often sub-par.
Finding quiet space and an adequate desk setup can be a challenge when everyone else in the family is home as well. Some students do not have access to a computer, nor can they afford one due to being laid off or furloughed from their part-time jobs. It is especially difficult for the students who are also parents. Schools are doing their best to keep lectures and test schedules on the same schedule as regular classes, but the college students with children at home are running into conflicting study schedules, making it extremely difficult to balance everyone’s virtual schedule.
I met with 4 incredibly resilient students who are doing their best to bring normalcy to their academic lives. Read below to learn more about how each of them is handling the transition to virtual learning.
Hannah Olsen is an honors student at Arizona State University studying Business Communication, Supply Chain Management, and Nonprofit Leadership and Management. As a senior graduating in May, she is tying up the loose ends on her thesis and finalizing each of her degrees. “With this class load, I am used to being busy running from one place to another for meetings, classes, or work, but within a week, all of that changed and needing to adjust so suddenly has been a unique challenge,” says Hannah.
“I don’t have a desk in my space because I normally do all my work in coffee shops or on campus. With those places no longer being wise options, I currently have my laptop set up on the windowsill next to my bed where I can be attentive, sitting at eye level with the camera during video lectures and digital meetings.” Hannah lives in a small townhome with three roommates, so it is incredibly important that she set up her workspace in her own room to keep distractions at a minimum.
Hannah shares a unique tip on keeping herself in a routine. “To keep myself organized, the things I use on a daily basis go straight into my backpack in the morning. This probably seems incredibly silly because I don’t have a daily commute right now, but it’s part of my routine that has kept me grounded and ready to work while also keeping everything I need organized and in its place.”
Hannah also mentioned that getting up at the same time every day, getting ready, and routinely doing something like meditating that would normally fill her commute time are proving to be critical for maintaining productivity (and sanity) throughout the day.
Lastly Hannah comments by saying, “Digital communication skills are incredibly important right now with meetings being held via FaceTime or Zoom. This change has come with its own learning curve, this experience will clearly be beneficial down the road as more and more companies are expanding to virtual work settings.” Hannah graduates in May and has started thinking about getting on the job market. She plans to attend as many virtual recruiting events as she can and has been reading up on best practices in virtual interviewing.
Juan attends The McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas where he majors in Finance. As classes went online, Juan first thought about ways to organize his room and to create a clean backdrop behind him for video sessions, virtual club meetings and virtual recruiting events. He set up his study space in order to have quick access to notes and books he might need throughout the day. As for tech, he ensured he had all the relevant software to engage with all of his classes. Getting setup for virtual schooling is a daunting task. Juan says, “I think most students already do most of their work on their computers. The bigger challenge is getting in the correct mindset to be productive. I know many people frequent coffee shops, but now, that isn’t an option.”
To other students, he suggests organizing your space in a way that is conducive to your personal productivity preferences. If you work best from a coffee shop with soft chatter and music in the background, play music in the background at your home. If you like to sit outside on a bench outside your student union getting fresh air while you read, create a comfortable space in the front or backyard that creates the same environment. Juan most importantly recommends having a clean room and a clean desk. “Make yourself a nice cup of coffee or tea at home and sit by the window. Whatever the case, make it a priority to create a productivity zone in your living space.”
It can be lonely being cooped up in a small space studying and taking classes all day. One of the most exciting parts of being in college is the social interactions and relationship building opportunities. Social distancing is something Juan takes very seriously, but he still makes time to engage with friends, “I mostly stay connected by texting and messaging my friends across various platforms like Snapchat, Twitter, and Messenger.”
Eliesha is a freshman at University of Texas, San Antonio majoring in Global Affairs. For her personally, the transition to virtual learning is going well. She shares, “I am not taking a heavy course load this semester so I lucked out. I feel lucky because it’s not only my classes that have gone online. My work-study job where I work as an assistant for 3 internship programs is able to be done remotely, and my college has been able to turn in-person appointments, meetings and events virtual.”
Eliesha’s classes have become more self-paced, and the professors have made adjustments to their syllabi to transition to make them more conducive for virtual learning for the rest of the semester. Eliesha commented, “Of course, there are challenges that came along with this transition. Not all professors are tech-savvy and for school offices that don’t have a solid remote procedure, getting back up and running has shown to be a little difficult.” Eliesha further commented, “I have one professor that doesn’t use Microsoft PowerPoint [or other virtual technologies] during lecture presentations. In class, he told us numerous times he cannot work a computer. Instead, the Teaching Assistant has become the main person to relay class announcements and answer any questions we may have.” She sums up this trying time by saying, “The virtual college life has its ups and downs, and I definitely have it easier than others majors. Hopefully, this only has to last this semester, and everything will return to normal by next Fall.”
Chris’ student life has added challenges. He is a father of two young children, and both children are home for the rest of the semester doing their own home schooling. His wife is also home during the day because her business is not considered essential, and as such, it was temporarily shut down. He shared the challenges that come with shifting from face to face lectures to online classes at home with children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In 2012 I graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a Political Science degree before moving to Baton Rouge, LA., with my family. A little more than a year ago, I decided to go back to school for a second degree, second career. Since January 2019, I have been enrolled as a full time pre-nursing student at both Louisiana State University and Baton Rouge Community College and, in January 2020, I was accepted into the FastBacc Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program at the Louise Herrington School of Nursing at Baylor University, which starts in May 2020. Currently, I am taking my final 4 prerequisite classes needed to start the program and, up until March, everything was smooth sailing.
“At first, the idea of transitioning to online wasn’t too much of a concern.” Chris didn’t have initial concerns because he had taken a few virtual classes before and was familiar with the process. However, he was not prepared for the added variables he now faces with all lessons moving to a virtual environment. “For example, not only do we have challenging classes, such as Chemistry, Chemistry lab, and Anatomy & Physiology II that are already hard enough in a face-to-face lecture environment, but now we are having to study online which makes digesting the material even more challenging.”
You can imagine that for many college students, having kids at home, fearing loss of financial stability, and experiencing the overall uncertainty of our current situation is weighing down their sense of focus on their school work. The students I spoke with commented that many of their peers are concerned with how their GPA might be affected. For students who are applying to or entering a program that has stringent GPA requirements, going virtual dramatically adds to the stress of failing. Chris commented, “The distractions, stress and anxiety is overwhelming. It can be very difficult to focus on taking proctored exams. Before we moved to a virtual learning environment, if I was finding the home environment too distracting, I could easily leave the house and go to the library and spend the time I needed to study and complete course work. Now the luxury of changing environments doesn’t exist.”
Chris expresses empathy for those who are underprivileged who may not have access to the internet or a certain type of computer that is required to adequately keep up with virtual lessons and tests. Many students are finding it extremely hard to focus right now. A global pandemic is entirely out of our control and unprecedented. The timing is especially unfortunate for students, given the sudden and unexpected transition happened during the middle of a semester because it leaves students without the option to drop, withdraw, or not start at all and continue when the time is better suited for their personal lives. “Finding a quiet place seems next to impossible these past few weeks, and this seems to be the case for a lot of people. We, as a community, have to come together and attempt to creatively move forward,” added Chris.
Some of the students I spoke with are on the cusp of graduating and getting on the job market. Virtual recruiting event softwares, like Flo Recruit, have thankfully made this transition possible. During these unprecedented times, it’s important we all take care of ourselves and our community by staying home.
Nonetheless, you can stay socially integrated with friends and family by connecting virtually. With every human interaction during these strange times, lean in with empathy and compassion. As the people around us tackle new daily challenges, showing support is how we will all get through this together.