As UWB Continue Transition to Online Learning, University Students and Faculty are Facing Challenges Learning How to Adapt

Written by: Huda Waheed, Hanyue Xue, William Hardmon and Junchuan Hu

Photograph by Hanyue Xue.
Siqi Chen, a student at the University of Washington Bothell, was trying to keep up with her math class. Due to the network congestion with heavy materials learning, the student was struggling with managing her time wisely. Siqi Chen was upset with how low her grades were, which they generally were high before moving to classes remotely. This is a common situation that students are struggling with right now.

Learning during this pandemic blurred the lines between academic and personal lives for students and faculty. Establishing an academic environment in our personal environment within short notice has profoundly impacted students and faculty in many different ways.

Before the end of winter quarter, the University of Washington announced that spring quarter classes will be held remotely. This was a decision made to keep the community safe and healthy.

The University of Washington Bothell now uses Zoom for online class sessions, which is a web conferencing application. Zoom allows students and professors to share screens, and host real-time video conversations, collaborate remotely and host virtual office hours. The University has made it so that participating online is made easier for everyone.

Graphic created by Huda Waheed. 
The University of Washington Bothell transitioned classes from in-person learning to online learning as a result of coronavirus rapidly increasing. The lightning bolt with coronavirus behind it represents how students and faculty had to adapt to online instruction very suddenly without any other choice.

Not only are students thinking about school-related things, but they are also focusing on home-related things. Jhowelyn Casanova, a student at the University of Washington, claimed that her responsibilities at home have heightened. Some examples of these responsibilities include cleaning around the house and taking care of her family. “Sometimes I have to stay at my apartment rather than at home because my parents don’t understand that just because I’m home doesn’t mean I’m free all the time” Casanova said.

“I can’t concentrate on my studies at home because my roommates are distracting,” said Jingwen Feng, another student at the University of Washington, who sounded discouraged as she spoke about her experience working from home. “Our lives are different, which affects our time management.” 

Some students have had to leave their personal environment in order to concentrate, such as Nishelle Bentick

 “Sometimes I’ll sit in my car right outside the house with the windows open. I still have an internet connection, so it’s quiet and no distractions from the people in my house. I don’t live too far from a park, so sometimes I’ll go over there if my neighbors are being too loud,” She said.

From the perspective of professors, creating an engaging environment online has been difficult. Students generally do not turn their camera on during class. This makes it difficult to understand how students are reacting to the information without seeing their faces.

“I’m just looking at monitors with three faces up there. I ask for feedback now more often, but even with that, I don’t know how I’m engaging,” said Masahiro Sugano, who is an artist-in-residence at the University of Washington Bothell. “I think it’s harder for the students at this moment. Rather than when we’re in the classroom, there’s this immediate sense of engagement. It’s obligated, and also there’s a clear beginning and end.”

Even if some students are engaging with their professors, their environment does not allow them to focus as much as they would in person. Casanova said, “It is easier to engage in person, put your phone away, and immerse yourself in the work environment. Once you are in the classroom, you put yourself in this mindset to get work done. Your home is much more comforting and it is difficult to put your mindset into getting work done.”

Coping with this new reality has caused some people to reminisce in-person learning. Jason Frederick Lambacher, a political science lecturer at the University of Washington Bothell, expressed, “I truly miss spontaneous interaction with students, but the real action is when students are able to interact with each other, and with me, to take discussion to places that can’t really be replicated online.” Since he finds it difficult to interact with students, he opened a discussion board for students in case they are facing learning issues. He checks this board frequently to help them as much as he can.

The reality of this coronavirus situation is that remote instruction will continue for a longer period of time. President Ana Mari Cauce sent out a message to students and faculty recently, stating that summer quarter classes will be held remotely. This provides an opportunity to understand how to increase student engagement and communication so that students adapt to online learning better.

Research that has been conducted on this has found that online instruction has the potential to be as effective as traditional instruction. In this study, instructors invited students to engage in an online survey to understand student engagement in online courses. 186 students from six different campuses completed the surveys. The results indicate that providing multiple ways of getting students to interact with each other to create meaningful communication has been proven effective. 

This can be done by increasing student cooperation and collaborative activities, such as group discussions and other student-student interactions. The instructor also has to be actively involved in student learning, minimally active in discussions, and communicate appropriately. If the faculty at the University of Washington use this information to implement it into their online instruction and course design, it may help students overcome the challenges associated with online courses.

In addition to this, students will have to create a new training mindset so that they can be productive in their personal spaces. Some students have expressed that they do not know how to manage their time wisely, as Siqi Chen notes. This could be fixed by creating a calendar to plan their days efficiently so that they stay organized and are more productive. 

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