Students and professors share their experiences switching from in-person classrooms to fully virtual learning one year after the fact
April 17, 2021
On March 16, 2020 Pierce College closed its campuses to students following the sudden uprising of COVID-19 cases in Washington State. One year later, Pierce College has proceeded to do its teaching virtually.
Announcements to continue in person teaching have since been extended to a small number of classes for Fall 2021. As Pierce prepares to bring students back to campus step by step, and other campuses and school districts begin to open their doors, many students and staff at Pierce feel as though the overall transition from being in person to fully online was mostly successful.
While some issues regarding communication and overall engagement brought mixed feelings for some, the general consensus seemed positive, with part of this being due to the accommodations made by professors. For Jade Dickinson, writing tutor and Running Start senior, she’s felt that Pierce College has done the best they could do, given the circumstances.
“Pierce and its professors have a strong commitment to quality,” Dickinson said. “I find that I have still been learning in my online classes and that most of the professors that I’ve come across have been really understanding. [However] I know that’s not the case for every professor.”
Dickinson can recall earlier March of 2020 when Pierce first closed its campuses and transitioned to online learning. “At the beginning of the pandemic, everybody was really really confused—including Pierce,” Dickinson said.
“I remember, we actually went online four days before classes ended and I had to do my last week of classes online. I think there was just so much fear around what could happen and we didn’t know anything about the virus. We barely knew how it spread, and we didn’t even have a mask mandate at that point.”
Mika Asiag, another Running Start student, also thought Pierce handled it well but felt that not everyone likes online learning and would have preferred other methods instead of fully online classes.
“I think they honestly could have done hybrid,” Asiag said. “I just feel like not everyone likes online learning—especially me. I hate online learning, and it’s hard for me to grasp ideas when [I] have to learn on [my] own.”
Students were not the only ones affected by the switch to online. For math professor Claire Gibbons, Ph.D., she’s been trying to view the whole ordeal in a positive light, not just for herself, but for those around her as well. “I think if I have the privilege, that I need to be using that to make a good situation out of this,” Gibbons said.
“If I’m just kind of feeling bad for myself—when I actually have so much—I don’t think that is the right way to handle it. The empathy that I can feel for my coworkers who are going through this I can try to share with my students, because my students also might have things going on at home—they might have kids, they might have jobs. I have lots of stuff that’s been impacted,so to be warm and understanding of that is good I think.”
Gibbons shared how a small disconnect between admin and higher-ups and the actual experience of faculty in their classes felt present at times. Overall though, Gibbons is grateful that Pierce was able to provide the needed support for this transition. “I think that [the higher-ups have] done a lot, especially with transparent communication and trying to be as supportive as possible; so I’ve been overall really impressed, personally.”
For math professor Cody Fouts, this was his first time having to teach full time online. Fouts had to adapt his class to online, as he’s been attempting to find different methods of teaching that may help his future students.
“I actually, prior to the beginning of the pandemic, had no desire to teach online because I think that one of my strengths as an educator and a teacher is in-person interactions with students, and I thought that was gonna be really hard to replicate online—, which has been true,” Fouts said.
For Fouts, getting students to register to the proper locations for his class, such as WAMAP, proved to be a small issue, as Pierce’s primary work-space for students is Canvas. But one thing in particular that has been difficult for Fouts has been interpersonal relationships with students and being available to his students while juggling his schedule.
“I think one of my biggest struggles as an educator—online or not—is trying to meet all students where they’re at, but I also want to keep myself in mind,” Fouts said. “I have things that I want to do in the evenings and weekends too that are not work. And it’s not that I don’t care about my students; I just only have so much time during the week.”
For Dickinson, she felt as though the school should do more to make their basic information more visible to students. Dickinson further said how she thinks sometimes info needs to be shoved in peoples’ faces.
“I think they’re doing a great job and making the right decisions personally, but just remind students through email [and] Canvas when tuition is due, when registration starts and any other important dates they should know about instead of relying on the students themselves to look in the handbook or look in the calendar,” Dickinson said.
For Fouts, what he felt could have been done differently had less to do with Pierce and more to do with himself personally. “I don’t know [if] I would have been as optimistic that things were going to be as short lived as they were,” Fouts said.
“I also would have really sought out more resources for how to effectively facilitate an online course. I think again during those first initial quarters, [it] was in my mind [that] all this was still very temporary, so I was still trying to do a very similar version of what I do in person; I was trying to do that online.”
Pierce has been trying their best given the situation. A year ago they were scrambling to move everything online as soon as they could. Some people understandably disliked online learning; others have tried to make the best of it despite the isolation. One thing Fouts misses most about in-person learning includes the simple “good mornings” and the relationships that could be built from getting to know students personally.
“You just know that when you’re seeing someone every day or even every couple of days you get to know things about their lives,” Fouts said. “You know maybe their families or things they’re looking forward to, or even just why students are in school, and then [you’re] able to ask them about that,” Fouts said.
“I am really goofy and silly in the way that I teach generally and so I really miss being able to do that every day with my students and see the look on their faces when they roll their eyes at my stupid math and dad jokes.”
Pierce has been in quarantine for over a year now with signs of returning to campus in Fall 2021. If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us, it’s to not take things for granted and the importance of compassion.
Reach out to people; no one is above burnout. Find little things to be grateful for—they exist everywhere. Be proud for making it an entire year.