May 04 2020

The Remote Learning Diaries: Grappling with Virtual Learning

A Michigan State University student shares her thoughts on real-time virtual instruction vs. prerecorded lectures — and the realization that some campus resources simply can’t be replaced.

In my four years as a student at Michigan State University, the experience I’m living as a college student during the COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing I’ve ever encountered. I have always had the option to take classes online, but I prefer face-to-face interactions with instructors and classmates and the sense of academic engagement I get from them.

Michigan State made the decision to move to 100 percent virtual learning in light of the global health pandemic, and it was not a decision made lightly. The shift to online education required a very short transition period that didn’t allow much time for faculty or students to develop a deep comfort level with remote learning before we were all charging forward together.

I have experienced two different teaching methods since the transition. The first allows participation in lectures via Zoom. Professors send out a class link, and students are connected through a real-time, face-to-face videoconference with their professor. The other approach used by teachers is to prerecord lectures and upload them onto D2L, MSU’s classroom platform. Students can then watch the material on their own schedule.

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I much prefer the live videoconferencing method of instruction. There is a similar level of accountability that comes with attending a videoconference meeting as there is with an in-person class. These classes, like in-person classes, factor attendance into final grades. As a senior, it is reassuring to know that my participation will still contribute to my GPA.

Remote Learning Hiccups Pose a Challenge

Overall, the biggest challenges I have experienced as a student during the shift to remote learning have to do the hurdles professors face in altering their lessons to be taught virtually. 

One of my classes had appearances by a number of guest speakers built into the syllabus, which unfortunately had to be scrapped. The professor has come up with new coursework to fill in those gaps, but it sometimes feels like busywork, and the educational value of hearing those speakers in person has been lost. Another challenge is the loss of access to essential resources that would otherwise be available on campus. As a communication major, I am a huge advocate of the Writing Center. While the center has moved operations online for the remainder of the semester, I miss the in-person experience of collaboration. 

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It is often hard to find silver linings in times like these. However, there are a few to note. Through this time of constant change, I have seen professors who have been wary of technology catch up with the times and the platforms available for online teaching and learning. No one wants to be the test case for such an abrupt and far-reaching transition, but I do believe it puts the university in a good spot long-term, as remote learning is here to stay. 

Just like anything in life, virtual learning at MSU is a trial-and-error process. It will take time to work out the kinks in the system. However, I am grateful to my professors for facing this challenge head-on and expecting students to do the same. It’s times like these that remind us what “Spartans Will” truly means.

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