2020 has been an eventful year as we kick off the new decade. One month ago, I was living on campus and taking classes, participating in extracurriculars and hanging out with my friends. Today, I am sitting at home, trying to comprehend the outbreak of COVID-19. This pandemic affected thousands of students and took a big hit on seniors. For those graduating this spring, the news of school closures was a shock to many. I am glad that the university is concerned for our safety and health, but at the same time, this was my last opportunity to enjoy SLU to the fullest.
Many events unique to seniors have been canceled, such as senior legacy symposium, senior night at the ballpark, department night for seniors and many more. We have worked hard these last three and a half years, and now, when we are about to celebrate our hard work, we are hit with a pandemic and are left with nothing but just sitting in our rooms and wondering if things will ever get better. In addition to the cancellation of events, many seniors didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to their friends and their professors. I never imagined that March 6 would be my last day on campus. What makes SLU’s education unique is the experiences that come with it, such as volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement and research. It is essentially the whole package. While SLU is taking proper health precautions, the university can do a better job with handling the transition to virtual learning and figure out ways to make events occur virtually rather than being canceled.
While on-campus instruction is terminated, we are still able to attend classes online via Zoom. I personally think it is difficult to learn online because the quality of content transmission decreases. A lot of the meetings are Q and A or discussion-based. My classes are asynchronous, so we watch videos during our own time. It becomes harder to stay organized and on track when everything becomes virtual. In-person contact is the norm and students know what they have to do. When things go virtual, then goals become a little harder to achieve. As a biochemistry major, it is hard to transition online because it is tedious to do mathematical calculations and hard to draw structural and molecular formulas. Professors should give out more interactive exercises that help gauge our understanding of the material. Examples include projects related to the topics studied in class and writing reflections on video lectures. I also think professors should make note sheets that highlight the important takeaways of each chapter. That way, we can understand the main ideas.
Certain classes have been hard to transition to virtual class-settings. While lectures can be done online, how are labs supposed to be done virtually? Professors are giving students the data but, unfortunately, students cannot get the in-lab exposure. Doing the lab is a crucial part of learning and producing data. It becomes difficult to understand why the lab is meaningful and the purpose of doing the lab. In-lab exposure is important because doing the experiment allows us to visualize the theoretical principles. Phase changes and color changes can only be observed by doing the lab. These are changes that can only be observed by the human eye; these changes are fascinating and intriguing. Assessments are also hard to administer virtually. While multiple choice and short answer questions can be assessed on Blackboard, it does not prevent students from using their notes or the internet.
Currently, SLU students can choose for their classes to be pass/fail. There is no point assessing the students’ mastery of content using the letter grade system if they are going to use resources during examinations. Professors should assign more projects, as these can assess the students’ knowledge and how to apply it in real-world settings. If there are more critical thinking assignments—projects, group presentations, essays—then there won’t be a need to transition to pass/fail. I plan on using the letter grade system because I am confident that I will do well in classes and pass/fail doesn’t look as good to professional and graduate schools. When an employer or admissions committee sees “pass,” they can’t tell if the student passed with a C or an A.
Remote learning is also limited, and does not match the expectations of most employers. Remote courses do not assess the soft skills and other skills that are assessed on campus. Online learning should be a piece of the overall learning experience, not the whole picture. If online learning was the whole picture, students wouldn’t go to college; they would just watch Khan Academy and YouTube. Clearly, learning content is not sufficient for success. College builds relationships, helps discover new extracurricular and volunteer opportunities and expands students’ horizons. Online programs provide little opportunity to build skills necessary for promising careers. Learning is only part of the process; one must also apply the skills in the real world.
Currently, we are not getting reimbursed for tuition. I think this is not fair because tuition costs reflect more than learning content. Also, online classes are not as efficient as on-campus instruction. As previously stated, labs and research cannot be done online which is why I believe a portion of students’ tuition should be reimbursed. Also, the tuition accounts for the resources used on campus like the laboratories, the computers, the study rooms, etc. What makes SLU’s education unique is the experiences that happen on campus. Academics, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement and research are offered on campus, so it is essentially the whole package.
While the cancellation of senior events, the switch to remote learning, debates on refunds and limited post-graduation opportunities affect millions of students, we should be blessed to be staying healthy. SLU cares about us and wants us to stay isolated from others until things get better. Faculty and administrators are trying to make the learning process as smooth as possible, but should realize that there needs to be more strategies and resources to learn and succeed in this alternative setting. Virtual learning provides students with something to learn, but it should not be considered the “gold standard” of academic and personal development.