At the onset of the Fall semester, Westminster College students have adapted to new ways of learning. Face masks and Zoom calls have become the new norm for students attending college across the country.
Westminster implemented health and safety guidelines that require face masks on campus, socially-distanced classrooms and the options of either hybrid, fully digital or outdoor classes.
Because of the shift to online learning, some professors say it’s hard to maintain Westminster’s charm of small, intimate classrooms. Christopher LeCluyse, English professor, said it is difficult to create personal student-instructor relationships during the pandemic.
“Well, I mean, obviously, first and foremost, it’s about safety, it’s trying to keep our students safe and trying to keep the faculty safe,” LeCluyse said. “It’s hard, I think, especially to a school like Westminster, which is known for small classes and lots of interaction between faculty and students […] It’s the way that we can continue to operate in a way that hopefully is safe.”
As professors shifted their courses to meet the state’s COVID-19 safety guidelines, some students said they also shifted their mindsets for the semester.
“[The semester] is definitely not gonna be as fun and not [have] as many opportunities,” said Elliot Riforgiate, senior biology major. “It just kinda sucks in that way.”
Riforgiate said he doesn’t feel that he is getting the same educational experience he got pre-pandemic.
“Educationally, I was hoping that I would still get the same kind of materials and the same kind of education, but it’s frustrating because I only get to do half of my bio-chem labs,” he said. “It feels like I’m not getting the whole class.”
Technology dominates student learning
Technology has played a more prominent role in Fall 2020 than previous semesters as many courses rely on video meetings.
LeClyuse said the recent digitization of courses is not necessarily a bad thing.
“What I’m seeing is students participating, first of all, much more consistently,” he said. “More of them participate and they go into much greater depth than if we just had a traditional in-class conversation because […] the medium allows them to go deeper.”
He said that in-person class discussions too often allow for a few outspoken students to “carry the bread of the conversation” — while more introverted students were happy to allow them to do so.
Some aspects of online learning should remain post-pandemic, students say
Although the shift to virtual classes may be difficult, some students believe it will have lasting positive impacts.
“Personally, I think that being able to hold advising meetings over Zoom can be a really helpful tool, because I know some students live pretty far away from campus and to come in and meet with one teacher can be a decent amount of work,” said Ella Brisson, senior flight operations major.
Hybrid or virtual classes and meetings also offer students who face health issues outside of the COVID-19 pandemic more accessibility than in-person classes do.
“I really like that if you are sick you are able to Zoom in with classes, and there are cameras available in classrooms,” said Brynn Sayler, junior nursing major. “Like, our labs have a camera so you can stay home and still watch what is going on so you do not miss anything.”
Economics professor Cid Seidelman said that the benefits of technology-heavy learning may be here to stay.
“There have been some really successful models nationally in terms of Southern Hampshire University and St. Leo College in Florida,” Seidelman said. “They built this very robust online learning environment focusing on those non-traditional students, and that has generated so much revenue that subsidizes the very expensive face-to-face traditional classroom.”
*Managing Editor Marisa Cooper contributed to this report.