Mark James Miller: AHC students adjust to the new virtual classroom
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Mark James Miller: AHC students adjust to the new virtual classroom

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Mark James Miller

Before the pandemic began, “online” or “distance learning” was one component of higher education, an option students could choose if they felt that taking a class from home rather than in a classroom was a good fit for them.

But with the onset of COVID-19 all courses — with a few exceptions — are now being offered via Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT), most of them using “Zoom,” a “cloud-based video communications app” that allows students and teachers to gather in front of their computers, ipads, or cell phones and have a virtual classroom on the internet.

Prior to the pandemic, Zoom was a technology most people had perhaps heard of but had never used. Now millions are being forced to learn it in order to work from home, and nowhere is this more evident than in higher education. Hancock students are having to get used to the “new” classroom, as well as the challenges and benefits that come with it.

Students report issues like poor internet connection, distractions from family members, and outmoded computers that do a poor job handling the new technology. “Finding a quiet place at home is hard,” says student Rubi Maldonado, “because my kids are always with me.” “I sometimes have poor internet connections during our Zoom calls so it’s hard to understand the material,” writes another.

Some students complain of being unmotivated when learning from home. “It’s very easy to fall behind or not be self-motivated,” said one. Student Miguel Perez reports that he remade his environment to make it more conducive to learning. With his bedroom now his classroom, “I separated my bed as far as I could from my desk. I needed to separate the two worlds.”

But students are learning to live with ERT. Many are embracing it with open arms. “Using Zoom for classes was probably the only thing that kept me sane during the quarantine,” says student Sierra Banks.

Some students report feeling safer in this environment. “In the back of my mind I was always thinking what if we get a psycho student that starts blasting the school,” writes Priscilla Guerrero. Amelia Frasco has a similar feeling: “It is much less intimidating than an on-campus class.” “I am not sitting next to a classmate intimidated by the mere fact that they may look smarter than me.”

Others like the convenience. “There’s certainly not as much pressure about being late when you can attend through your phone.” Student Eric Lundberg especially appreciates the fact that Zoom sessions can be recorded. “Being able to reexperience an entire lecture on my own time greatly increases the long-term absorption of knowledge for me.”

“Taking this class via Zoom is fantastic!” says Valerie Nevarez. “I love that I am able to focus on school within the comfort of my own home.” This sentiment is echoed by others. “I feel very comfortable learning right in my home. I think it is better than a physical classroom setting since I don’t have to worry about unnecessary things like traveling.”

The verdict isn’t in on how effective the virtual classroom is in terms of how well the students are learning. It is becoming clear that for the students, however, they are coping quite well with being taught via Zoom. “I hope it stays like this from now on,” says one. “I’m honestly hoping they will continue having some classes on Zoom even after the college is allowed to resume normal classes,” says Tiffany Madeira. With all the uncertainly brought about by the pandemic, she may get her wish.

Mark James Miller is an Associate English Instructor at Allan Hancock College and President of the Part-Time Faculty Association. He can be reached at mark@pfaofahc.com.

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