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April 3, 2020

While spring break was happening, my friends from other colleges were texting me and asking what I thought of school and how I was dealing with it over the internet. While my friends didn’t realize my break was not over yet, it felt weird to me that they were even asking this because, mentally, I was on summer vacation.

Having left Oberlin’s campus seemingly until next fall with no school work to do over spring break I began to mentally forget spring semester wasn’t over. I knew that as days went on, the return to school drew closer and closer, but I didn’t feel that this was the case. The night before class I lay in my bed and thought to myself, what is school going to be like now? How will this affect my learning? Well, today marks four days into online learning and I am here to share my first-hand experience with life on Zoom. 

In case you don’t know what Zoom is, it is the webcasting technology professors are using to connect with students. The students all join the class over Zoom at the class’s regular meeting time and we do our best to maintain normalcy as if we were in Oberlin. I have found Zoom learning to be much more effective for lecture-based classes than discussion-based classes. Hopefully, discussion-based classes will improve as the semester moves forward, but currently, whenever students are broken up into groups there has been a lot of silent, awkward staring going on.

People have also told me they are much more self-aware of their own facial expressions when on Zoom as it shows you a live stream of yourself. I try to turn my camera off so I don’t mindlessly stare at myself while webcasting. Professors have expressed being uncomfortable with the new technology too, but it is obvious they are trying to push through it.

A benefit of Zoom is that the lectures are recorded for students in different time zones. One of the hardest parts about learning on Zoom is maintaining focus. I try to always have a notebook and pen with me while I’m in class, so I feel more like I’m in class and less like I’m watching a Khan Academy video.

The other day my mother asked my younger brother what he thought of online learning. His response was that it makes it seem like learning is optional. I completely understood what he meant. When you are in your own home and can just close a laptop screen and walk away from everything school-related, learning does feel like an option and not a way of life. 

The professors in my classes have done a good job of adjusting the class syllabus to the circumstances the world is facing. In my comparative American studies class, we have shifted our final project to study the coronavirus and the media coverage that surrounds it. The format of tests in my classes has also been adjusted and some have even been turned into papers.

Oberlin College also pushed back the Pass/No Pass deadline to the last day of classes to accommodate students. If you are an incoming student reading this, Pass/No Pass is essentially an option students have to take a class and instead of receiving a letter grade, they either pass the class or fail the class. Students are pushing for a Universal Pass system, though, which would mean that no matter what every student passes every class. Personally, I think this system definitely holds some merit as every student doesn’t have an equal opportunity to learn in times like this.

Something I have found hard to replace is the ability to walk into the library at Oberlin and automatically have someone that can help me figure out a concept. At Oberlin, everyone wants to see each other succeed, which leads to large study groups and tons of helpful conversations. It is much harder to tap into this environment when students are spread across the globe. I have partaken in one Zoom study session so far and it was definitely helpful, but it wasn’t quite the same as having the person right there in front of me.

It seems like the whole world is playing by ear. We are all watching and seeing what will happen next and trying to act accordingly. Just like how we have to adjust to social distancing and living in lockdowns, we will have to adjust to learning over the internet.

Every day I wake up I tell myself I just have to try my best. The more you are willing to try, the more the new methods of learning will work for you. I hope everyone stays safe and stays inside. I will see you on Zoom!

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