Pandemic brought about new and different ways for students to learn

Whether on a screen or in person, the way college students and faculty interact now because of the pandemic hasn’t really changed.

It’s about getting that personal touch and connection, which can be done in both distance learning and face-to-face classes.

Assistant Professor of Communications and Media Eryn Travis said that West Chester University students and teachers are open to different learning methods.

(Corey McCarty – Reading Eagle)

“We have more options now,” Travis said. “We are flexible and able to adapt, and that benefits the students.”

At West Chester University, classes were conducted on a remote basis for the first two weeks of the Spring 2022 semester before in-person classes began.

On the first day of class, Travis posed an icebreaker question to students who tuned in via Zoom: “Sheetz or Wawa?”

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West Chester students wearing masks wait for classes to start. (INSERTED PHOTO)

At the beginning of the semester and to get in touch with the students, the professor also asked the students to name their favorite song. At the beginning of each subsequent class, Travis then plays a student’s favorite.

“There was distance learning and pandemic learning,” Travis said. “Distance learning was not new. What was new was that we all did it at the same time.”

One of the ways Travis engaged with her students during distance learning was to remind them that they were behind a screen and visible and not alone.

West Chester went remote during the pandemic and is now back to in-person classes.

Jeffery Osgood Jr., assistant provost and vice president of academic operations, said students were taking more classes via Zoom during the shorter summer and winter semesters than before the pandemic.

He spoke about the ease and flexibility of online learning. This gives students the opportunity to not have to enter the campus for a while.

The university has taught teachers without formal online training how to teach virtually during the pandemic.

Osgood said the university recognized that today’s students are different.

He claims that students perform better in the classroom and can suffer from Zoom fatigue.

“The way you approach online learning is very different,” he said.

“Students don’t want to go to a physical office,” Osgood said. “It’s a generation of students who want to text the university and get a reply.”

And the university has now responded with some of its offices, including the registry office, by serving students virtually.

“These opportunities didn’t exist before. We’re used to it now,” he said.

Gwynedd Mercy University

Kirsten Swanson, director of marketing, communications and social media at Gwynedd Mercy University, said that apart from online courses/programs – which were online before COVID – the school’s traditional primary classes have been held in-person since August.

“Zoom has allowed more flexibility for things like advisor/faculty meetings, study sessions, etc., but it’s not used for traditional classroom instruction,” she said. “However, Zoom gives the university the flexibility to pivot and continue business as usual when the need arises.

“For example, amid the Omicron surge, faculty were able to use Zoom to conduct their classes remotely for the first few weeks of Spring 2022 semester when they felt more comfortable, giving students the option to test and/or quarantine .”

Zoom can be used at Gwynedd Mercy as needed.

“For our online courses, Zoom has given faculty the ability to conduct synchronous distance learning on demand for these classes, which are primarily online asynchronous courses.”

Technology is changing the school environment.

West Chester’s Travis said using Zoom was a challenge but also an advantage.

Guest speakers who would not normally travel to campus can visit them via Zoom. Travis spoke about a US Food and Drug Administration speaker who was still speaking to students in Baltimore.

According to Rui Li, associate vice president of digital learning and innovation, virtual learning has changed attitudes at West Chester, which has been developing online education for several years.

“It’s still possible to interact with students and facilitate and change mindsets,” Li said.

Virtual tools allow students to participate on their own schedule, which many find more convenient.

A student no longer needs to be present in the classroom to turn in an assignment. And the progress is immediately measurable.

Albright College
Albright College’s Carey Manzolillo said the use of technology has definitely increased, but perhaps not in the way people would expect. And the students don’t stay away from campus at all.

“Even though we transitioned to online instruction and telecommuting in March 2020, more than 1,000 of our students have never left our campus,” Manzolillo said. “These students were unable to go home for one reason or another, felt unsafe about going home, had no homes to go to, or had food or housing insecurities.

“Since then, the vast majority of our students have made it clear that even if their classes are online, they want to be on campus. Grades and quite a bit of class information were already on platforms like Canvas, so students were used to looking at these things while speaking to faculty.

Zoom was used, with a personal touch at Albright.

“Obviously, Zoom allowed teachers to continue having those ‘in person’ classroom and counseling sessions,” she said. “During the pandemic, we have used Zoom for classes and virtual events and Microsoft Teams for employee collaboration.

“We quickly learned that some areas of the campus could work well remotely. After vaccines became available, the college introduced a new flexible work and telecommuting policy that allowed staff to work from home for up to 40% of their normal hours.

“Whether on campus or at home, many of us continue to use the capabilities of Teams to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, quick chats, and large, cross-campus meetings.”

Students and staff can have both.

“Many of our events are now in-person and virtual, so Zoom is being used to allow more people to (virtually) attend large events,” she said.

“No one size fits all”

Bessie Lawton, professor of communications and media at West Chester, said technology has made college life more innovative and flexible. Students can access the Internet in their free time.

Schoolwork deadlines are more flexible. Mental health issues are better addressed through technology, Lawton added.

PhD students have embraced online learning.

Unsurprisingly, graduate students with good time management and organizational skills embrace technology. PhD students are better at balancing work, family, career, and school.

“College is more than just taking classes,” Lawton said. “Part of student success is respecting different styles – no one size fits all – we need to respect different learning styles.”

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