Shepherdstown, W.Va., – When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, schools, businesses, and individuals around the world had to adapt to going virtual. Most of us had the virtual world at our fingertips, taking notes on our computers, reading the news or a Twitter thread while on the bus, but none of us were prepared for the new type of virtual world the pandemic would bring.
Shepherd University was no exception to the switch of a virtual lifestyle. The university hosted not only classes online, but events as well.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Shepherd has adjusted in a variety of ways such as surveillance testing, new policies, and an optional switch to online courses.
As students schedule their courses for the Fall 2021 semester, the policy of online courses may be having the most impact on their decisions. The distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine has been successful and herd immunity may be reached by the end of the summer.
Herd immunity allows for the lifting of safeguards and policies that were meant to diminish the spread of COVID-19. The number of online courses would likely return to the level from before the pandemic.
With the hope for a return to normal around the corner, it is important to reflect on the experiences with online learning. Some students are ready to get back to the classroom, while others are still hoping for an online option.
When asked about the upcoming fall semester, several students expressed their desire to return to the normal class structure.
One student, Alyssa Nazarok, says that she is ,“hoping to take in-person courses.” Even though the teachers have done the best they can, Nazarok is missing the in-person connection which “have helped [her] learning greatly in the past.”
Sharice Hawthorne, is also hoping to have in-person courses for the fall semester. Hawthorne says, “I’m looking to do my classes in person, so I’m more motivated to do my work and pay attention.” Online courses can provide too many distractions without the in-person classroom structure.
Not all students are ready to go back to the in-person format. Some students are still nervous about a transition to mainly in-person. One student, Mahayana Garcia, believes, “there should be an option for online classes in the fall” for the students who are not comfortable.
However, students do not always get to decide the structure of their courses especially if there are limited options for a required course. Some students want to transition back to in-person courses, but they have concerns about whether their professors are on board.
Marisa Bringhurst mentions that, “I am hoping to be able to take all in-person courses, but the accounting department might decide to go totally online again.”
While the students have their own preferences for courses, it is ultimately the professor’s choice for the course format.
Several professors agree that the online courses allow for less of a connection with the students, but they have differing opinions on what that means for the long term.
One professor, Samuel Greene, has found that despite the lack of connection, he may continue to offer online courses. Greene is offering his general education courses in an asynchronous, online format because his experience shows “gen ed enrollment is generally higher in the asynchronous courses.”
Other professors are looking ahead towards future uses of the online format. Professor Tim Nixon says that the experience has shown the feasibility of online learning during events of school cancellations.
Professor Karen Gardner believes that the use of systems like Zoom will become more frequent after this experience. She speculates that Zoom could be used for individual meetings as well as student organizations.
Like the differing opinions with students, not all professors want to see the online format continue. Professor Betty Ellzey has offered “exclusively in-person” courses rather than switching to online. She has taught one online course, but she says the discussion aspect is, “just not the same” as it is for an in-person course.
The use of online learning during the pandemic has been a necessity for students to be able to continue their education without creating a dangerous health risk. While looking at a post-pandemic world, it is important to reflect on the pros and cons of this system.