The first week back: Cal U students and faculty describe challenges and adjustments to online learning


Paul MacLean

Cal U Senior Paul MacLean’s computer generated animation of the Convocation Center was created in Roblox so computer science graduates can experience a “virtual” graduation ceremony at the facility.

Hannah Wyman, News Editor

For the first time in history, all Cal U students are learning from someplace other than on campus. On March 28, full class schedules resumed as students logged onto D2L to begin the rest of the spring semester 

Many students took the first week as a time to adjust to new changes. Sophomore communications major Kaitlyn Collins, 20, said that she felt her first week of online classes were a little stressful, but is optimistic about the weeks that follow.  

“It just feels like everything is due all at the same time even though it obviously isn’t,” said Collins. “Now that the first week is over, I know things will become easier as I get used to them.” 

Craig Fox, associate director of the University Honors Program and philosophy professor said he has been thinking about what it means to finish the term online, a complex task for both educators and students. Fox said that he believes it depends on who the students are, who the faculty member is, what the course is, where everyone was in the progression of the course, and so on.  

“I say this because I have seen and read many articles that address ‘moving courses online’ and many seemed to me to understate and maybe misdescribe what we are doing,” said Fox. “I approached thinking about these changes by starting from the fact that my courses were face-to-face courses up until the beginning of March. That affects what work I can expect students to do now online.” 

Because of this, Fox did not think that he should suddenly think of the courses he is teaching as “online courses” and redesign them accordingly. Instead, Fox used knowledge from past training workshops for online teaching and made modifications for each of his classes. 

I imagine some students will be fine with our change in mode of working, and I imagine some will find it very difficult,” said Fox. I hope to be responsive to my students’ needs in what is, again, a highly-atypical semester. 

Junior Zachary Smith, 20, said his first week of classes went well. Studying towards degrees in political science, history, and social sciences, Smith appreciates the accommodations professors are making during this time as “the professors know that this can be a difficult time for some students.” 

Furthermore, Smith said his anthropology professor, Dr. Kuba, made adjustments that were understandable after a class discussion on each student’s ability to learn online. 

Online classes can be tougher for some,” said Smith. Some courses aren’t made to be online. You need the face to face experience to get the most out of class. 

Collins also said she recognizes the value of being able to interact in person during her seminar classes.  

As a communication studies major, I’m used to speaking about a lot of things in class,” said Collins. The online alternative for that is making discussion posts. It’s just not the same, and I miss the way things used to be. 

In an attempt to maintain in-class discussion and participation, some professors are utilizing Zoom, a video conferencing service, to meet with students and teach classes. 

One of my professors utilizes Zoom, and it has been going really well,” said Collins. I like it because it allows me to see and hear from my classmates again. It kind of makes things feel a little more normal. 

For senior computer science major Paul, Maclean, 21, the transition to online learning hasn’t been too outlandish. MacLean said that most of his assignments are easily made online in the first place, and if a problem does arise, he can always turn towards his classmates. 

“Fortunately, many members in our major have been developing a server on Discord for easy communications for about two years,” said MacLean. If we encounter anything impassable, we can reach out to other students for help at the click of a button. 

Yet, MacLean recognizes that students who rely on the discipline of school to stay on track might bfaced with some struggle. 

Not being immersed in a routine can isolate you from your responsibilities,” said MacLean. I personally still set an alarm to emulate that schedule, so I don’t slack off out of habit. At the same time, I don’t waste two hours driving every day. That time goes straight into Senior Project and Minecraft now. 

This senior project MacLean and his classmates have been developing for about six months is a bus tracking system for the Vulcan Flyers. However, it also requires live presentation of the product prototype.  

How the heck do you present bus tracking hardware in action over Zoom?” said MacLean. “We’ll find a way, but it doesn’t feel nearly as rewarding as presenting our hard efforts in person. 

According to an email from Bruce Barnhart, provost and vice president for academic affairs, a pass/ no credit option for classes will be available to help “ease concerns about grades in this new environment.” This email was sent out on March 24, four days before the start of classes. 

Now, students can apply for pass/no credit grading by submitting the proper paperwork. While students can still opt for a traditional final letter grade, a grade of no credit will not adversely affect one’s GPA. 

Students such as Collins, Smith, and MacLean all are in favor of this option.  

We’re going through a really stressful time right now, and we’re dealing with so much more than just our education,” said Collins If students do not do as well as they hope this semester, they have that option which I think is really nice. 

Smith said he believes all the courses should be pass/fail from the start because of the situation. He gave examples of students having to work or having issues with internet connection as possible obstacles some might encounter 

If a student wants to have an actual grade for any reason such as expanding their GPA to get into good academic standing, that’s fine and they should be able to,” said Smith. Online classes take adjustments and they shouldn’t be seen as the same as in-person classes. 

Despite all these changes, Cal U students still seem to persist and make the best of their situations. MacLean is even reconstructing the Convocation Center in Roblox, a multiplayer online video game and game creation system, for computer science graduates to be able to experience a graduation. 

There is a graduation list, and we will have a virtual ceremony for graduating seniors,” said MacLean. I may even invite some of my professors as guests.