Story and photos by REEDE NASSER
Instead of facing hundreds of students or a few professors, students and staff at the University of Utah have been experiencing our new normal this 2020-21 school year due to the pandemic and limiting university events to 20 people. The majority of classes at the U have gone virtual, whether through Canvas Instructure or virtual lectures through Zoom. Education has never been so different.
Though online learning is nothing new in this day and age, the ability to sufficiently learn through a screen has become a major point of strife for the U’s students. Students have noted a few issues when it comes to solely Canvas-based classes.
“It feels even harder now, there’s no professor or teaching assistant that can reiterate the information or answer questions quickly. It takes me hours to fully understand the information presented,” said junior Shyann Brown in a Zoom interview. She is currently majoring in accounting.
Another student indicated the lack of seeing their professor in a classroom or joining class virtually takes away from the structure they are used to. Freshman Noah Martin, who is studying engineering, said without a set time to learn and see a professor, classes don’t feel as important.
“The classes where we have to virtually come in, I’m more likely to focus on because there’s more accountability, the professor knows we’re there but when it’s a lesson I lead myself, I will push it off to the last second,” Martin said.
On the other hand, when students are learning, some worry that they aren’t retaining any information, simply just memorizing.
“I don’t know anyone in my classes, I have no one to talk to about what I’ve been learning,” said Matt Idlestrom, who is majoring in business. “When I was in a classroom, a lot of information I understood much more after having a conversation with my peers. It was nice to be able to review while we were learning. By the time the exam comes I don’t remember half of the unit because after the lesson I don’t have to focus on it as much.”
However, the students aren’t the only people struggling with this new form of education. Educators at the U said they too are struggling to navigate this new internet-based way of learning. They have had to restructure lessons, grading policies, learn how to use Zoom and Canvas sufficiently to instruct a class solely on those platforms, and find new ways to keep students accountable and engaged.
Professors have mentioned multiple frustrations when it comes to this new teaching. They have observed their students keep their cameras off during class, submit assignments late, or be confused about prompts or assignment details that had not been an issue in the past. However, it seems that most instructors are frustrated when it comes to cameras being turned off.
“[I]t’s hard to see students, it’s hard to read body language, and you know students don’t turn on their camera a lot which I find really frustrating and kind of weird,” said assistant professor, Michael Dichio in a Zoom interview.
Instructors said they are worried that students are simply just not engaged with at-home learning. Are they really paying attention? Would they reach out if they had a question? Are they comfortable enough on a lesson before their class moves on? To answer their own questions, instructors have been creating and providing more resources than before for their students. Discussion boards, longer office hours, or midterm check-ins. Many of which their students are not utilizing to the best of their ability.
Based on the interviews, there seems to be a major disconnect when it comes to the U’s students and teachers. Both groups are frustrated and confused, just trying to navigate our new normal. Students need to start looking into more active participation when it comes to their classes; participating in class or using the other resources given, turning on their camera, and proactive learning. Instructors could look at starting a weekly discussion where students can interact with each other and their teachers.
However, the positivity of the situation should be noted as well. Educators and students alike are thankful to be able to learn in times like these. “Logging on to Zoom or Canvas adds a sense of routine and normalcy to my day, something I was struggling to get before classes had started,” said senior Kate Culkin, who is majoring in political science.