home school 1

'Home' School 1: How COVID-19 is Impacting Learning

Ryan Daine

As new health measures seem to constantly be keeping everyone's lives in a concurrent spiral of questioning what one can do and go, one thing is for certain: school is back in session.

The outbreak of Coronavirus, or COVID-19 across the United States has not only shut down Manchester University’s North Manchester and Fort Wayne campuses, but thousands of other colleges across the nation as well.

Amid the dizzyingly chaotic scramble to convert months of curriculum into an online capable format, both professors and students alike are facing unique challenges as we all hunker down, turn on, tune in and drop out into the new waters of digital learning.

As over 1,000 of MU’s best and brightest students scatter out across the country and head back home to adapt to this new way of life and online learning, the traditional face-to-face class was, obviously, forgone. Instead, instructors have turned to online meeting platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Two students were able to take a break from their online course loads to share a few words on how the new method of learning has been going, and the impacts that the changes have made.

First-year student Alex Searfoss (pictured above) studies in his bedroom in South Bend, Indiana, which has now transformed to double as a workspace. “It’s been difficult and a challenge to adjust,” he said.

No surprise here, as most students’ limited exposure to online learning likely came from their days back in high school, where severe weather may have closed corporations for a day or two at a time, occasionally for a week. Never as long as half of a semester. Keeping students at home for nearly six weeks is a definite curveball that has seemingly come from nowhere, at a blistering speed.

“I feel that students are struggling to settle into this, but professors too are having their share of problems with trying to shift their syllabus and teaching to a completely online format," Searfoss added. “It gets frustrating.”

Searfoss is not alone in grappling with the new learning environment. Carson Thompson, a sophomore biology-chemistry major from Decatur, Indiana, had a similar disposition when recounting his experiences during the first few sessions of online classes.

“For me, the experience really depends on which class it is as to whether the experience is good or bad,” he explained. “There are certain classes that have been pretty okay just because of the nature of them; they’re easy to be taught online and make sense. Other courses, like [those that require physical participation], are nearly impossible to complete in this online setting.”

Thompson also expressed difficulties in communicating with professors during this process. He expressed how certain instructors have been very “on top of things,” as he puts it, and how they communicate daily with their students to make sure they have the proper guidelines to follow for success. Others, he explained, he has not heard from personally on a regular basis, “since before spring break.”

Thompson stressed how difficult it is to succeed in class and feel motivated to complete coursework when communication is not there. “When there’s just random Canvas assignments being posted with little to no instruction, I lose the focus and will to complete the work,” he said. “When professors engage with us and try to make the classroom work as smoothly as possible, I want to get online and do what needs to be done. When it’s just busy work with no direction, I don’t want to do it.

“Online learning is already hard enough on all of us,” he continued; “there’s no need to make it mundane and pointless too.”

Students and professors alike understand that these are taxing and trying times for everyone involved; federal and state government mandates continue to be extended and everyone is stuck at home, where they have been for the past three weeks, a length of time that seems almost surreal when looked at retrospectively.

(Anyone know what day of the week it is?)

As boredom sets in and physical contact is limited, the freedom of interacting with the outside world beyond one's own backyard becomes a more of a distant memory.

Searfoss has his own take on how the quarantine blues have begun to affect his daily life, along with his academic work. “It’s hard to find that balance between going to class, doing work, and having structured activities during downtime,” he said. “Being at home almost 24/7 makes everything seem mundane, and that transfers into going to class in the same room where you also go to bed.”

Boredom has hit an all-time low for Searfoss. “You get tired of watching movies, listening to music, whatever, so you go outside to catch a break only to realize that you really can’t go anywhere else,” he said. “The boredom makes you realize how much you miss your friends and life as it was just a month ago; you get online to do classes, and just wish you could be back on campus.”

As the saying goes, ‘Spartans, for life!’ whether online or in person, it forever stands true, even in the worst of times, we’re in this together.