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By Brooke Engel
How do you complete a chemistry lab from a home kitchen? What about attending a nude figure drawing class from a shared living room? Is any of this even possible? These are just a few of the many questions faculty, administration, and students are scrambling to answer as Principia College flips to an online-only learning environment.
In reality, the question isn’t if these things are possible, but rather how effective lessons will be once they’re transferred online. In many cases, faculty are left with the difficult job of determining what activities are absolutely essential for meeting course objectives. For everyone, it’s been a massive upheaval of what was once deemed “normal.”
Students are attempting to juggle mixed-up time zones, multiple unfamiliar digital education platforms, and a blatant disruption to their expensive education. For those who chose to attend college in-person because they succeed best in a classroom, the change feels overwhelming and disappointing.
“It’s been a big adjustment,” says freshman Lindsey Huffman. “The thing I’ll miss the most is how we communicate. I love the face-to-face conversations and connections that come from being in class together.”
Senior and student body president Sophia Hathaway echoes these fears.
“I’m nervous that I’ll feel less connected to my classmates and professors because we no longer have space before and after class for easy conversations,” says Hathaway.
Let’s be clear – it’s not that remote learning isn’t a perfectly suitable, tried, and practiced way for many to complete their education. In fact, according to OnlineSchools.org, the first remote learning dates back to The University of London’s distance learning program (by mail) established in 1858. The world has come a long way since then, but in the case of Principia, and most colleges and universities throughout the world, the real problem is that no one was planning to do it this way.
Regardless, students and faculty have no choice but to make the most of the situation. Lisa Roberts, director of the Marshall Brooks Library, reminds students that librarians are at the ready.
“If you are not sure where to look for resources for papers, projects, etc., reach out. Contact a librarian at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you,” says Roberts.
The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), the Principia department whose mission is, “To promote and support academic excellence…,” has pulled together a wide variety of resources from Google, YouTube, and education institutions to help with various aspects of remote learning. Resources include anything from technology guides and communication, to best-practice guides for being an online student. The page encourages students to communicate with their professors consistently, keep a list of daily tasks, and create a separate physical space for classwork to help promote healthy boundaries between school and home.
Huffman has done just that, making a swanky new workspace to help encourage her studies. For Huffman, the well-lit nook, customized with her betta fish and favorite candle, help her “feel in control, organized, and ready to work.”
Molly Broere, the CTL director, advises that a student’s best resource might be their classmates: “Get a community together for support. You can schedule homework sessions, read the Bible Lesson together, or answer questions about a course.”
The CTL also encourages students to be patient as the community works to navigate this unknown territory.
“I think we all need to be patient with ourselves and each other,” notes Ellen Sprague, associate professor and writing instructor in the CTL. “Even if we’ve communicated remotely in the past, what we’re doing now is different. Everything is remote, all the time, and it can be tiring. We can certainly learn from each other. I’d love to see everyone helping each other out.”
Trained writing tutor Greta Johnson offers a few tips for staying engaged in classes and on top of schoolwork:
• Claim a space to do homework and have class calls.
• Set a schedule for yourself and write it down.
• Keep your class materials in a designated space, and try to keep up the good habits you maintained on campus while you’re at home.
•Try to limit screen time so that you don’t get tired of TV but you don’t go overboard, either.
“I’ve found that the more I recreate my good habits from campus here at home, the more I feel like I’m on a schedule like I was when I lived on campus,” says Johnson, who has been working and prepping for remote learning from her home for two weeks.
While students prepare to adapt to virtual classrooms, faculty are getting creative to try to maintain engaging, dynamic courses.
“The art department has secured funding to purchase necessary supplies and send them to students directly so that they can follow faculty-led tutorials from home,” says Marissa Bunting, the department’s post-graduate teaching intern.
Sprague has seen an “all-hands-on-deck” attitude in her fellow professors, who “are sharing so many great resources with each other as they re-craft their courses to best serve their students’ educational needs and plans.”
Those who have any type of experience with remote instruction have led workshops on Zoom and GoogleMeet throughout the week, and emails have been exchanged with hundreds of links and suggestions to effectively digitize course content, instruction, and classroom management. Just as students are feeling flustered, faculty are also facing ever-changing expectations.
Amid the uncertainty, Lisa Roberts shares a reminder for Principians to stand on a firm foundation.
“Remember to take time each day to take care of yourself,” she advises. “By doing things like reading the Bible lesson, reading articles from the Sentinel or Journal, and praying, you will be able to retain your joy. Balance the constant wave of new reports about contagion, separation, financial worries and stress with the Truth. Use the tools you have to support your growth. Reach out to others who can support you.”
• Brooke Engel is a post-graduate teaching intern at Principia’s Center for Teaching and Learning.