Students, professors weigh in on virtual start to spring semester

Illustration by Seulgi Smith

Anna Chen, Contributing Writer

As VCU transitions into a completely virtual start for the spring semester, students and professors alike are working together for the return to classes. 

“We will evaluate the feasibility of moving forward with previously scheduled in-person classes and hybrid courses by mid-February, with the hope to resume them on or before March 8,” VCU President Michael Rao said in a Jan. 12 press release.

For students who have not had in-person classes since VCU initially went online during the spring 2020 semester, not much has changed regarding the classroom structure. 

Sophomore nursing major Winston Kakande said the main challenge from transitioning to Zoom learning is how easy it is to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that professors assign. 

“I often feel that if I don’t start ahead of time, I will always, without a doubt, fall behind,” Kakande said.

History professor Carolyn Eastman, who holds a doctorate in history, has been exclusively teaching online and said it’s no question that she prefers teaching in person, despite the many benefits of an online structure.

“You can imagine when I’m preparing my material and I have to stare at my face the entire time, it’s awful,” Eastman said. 

Eastman said the hardest part of teaching now is trying to ensure all her students can benefit and succeed from this kind of teaching.

“As a teacher I believe in being in a room with real people,” Eastman said. “It gives me more energy and the environment is more dynamic.” 

“It’s a waste of money to continue my housing and meal plan,” said Freshman English major Soeun Park. “I also didn’t feel safe living in a building with hundreds of students.”

Sophomore graphic design major Ashley Choi said that although it was nice to come back to campus for the fall semester, learning from home has helped her to stay more focused and motivated.

Choi previously had one in-person class but didn’t notice much change after transitioning online. As long as she had the necessary materials for assignments and communicated efficiently, Choi said she was able to stay on top of her deadlines. 

Sophomore English and political science double major Hannah Torma said it was hard for her to transition online from in-person classes. 

“I think all things considered, my professors handled the transition really well,” Torma said. “They tried to adapt discussions into our work but I still felt that the quality of learning went down.” 

Torma said it was harder to focus and learn sitting in front of a computer compared to sitting in a classroom. 

“I was astonished by how different it was,” Torma said. “I know my professors are doing the best they can but actually putting your phone down, being able to look at the professor and be engaged — it made all the difference.” 

With the unique circumstances surrounding this semester, VCU’s Residential Life and Housing allowed students to cancel their housing contracts by Jan. 21.

“One of our values is student-centeredness, we believe that students should have the opportunity to make a decision on housing that best supports their success,” said Residential Life and Housing communications manager Jessica Buchanan in an email.

Currently, the housing capacity for each of the 2021 spring and fall semesters is 5,200 beds, with a little over 3,400 students currently living in on-campus housing. 

Freshman English major Soeun Park felt that there were many reasons to dissolve her housing contract, but the main reason was because the instructional format changed.

“It’s a waste of money to continue my housing and meal plan,” Park said. “I also didn’t feel safe living in a building with hundreds of students.”

Despite the change in her classroom format, freshman biomedical engineering major Amanda Pearson decided to keep her contract and stay in her dorm for the purpose of functionality.

“Being in an environment where I’ve trained myself to work with a productive mindset allows for me to do better than if I were at home,” Pearson said.

Pearson said she realized that as long as she keeps herself accountable, virtual learning is not as difficult as she expected it to be.

“Everyone here on campus is in the same situation,” Pearson said. “I find that if I stick to a routine, pay attention to the lectures and keep track of my workload, it can keep me from slacking off.” 

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