Students speak about their academic experiences during the pandemic and how their institutions helped or hindered along the way. The students featured in this episode are part of the Every Learner Everywhere Intentional Futures Fellowship Program.
Gerry Bayne: Welcome to EDUCAUSE Exchange, where we focus on a single question from the higher ed IT community and hear advice, anecdotes, best practices, and more.
Reconceptualizing the student experience with a view to the whole person can expand the potential to meet students where they are. It can foster their sense of belonging and help them meet their academic, career and life goals. In our last episode, we heard from several faculty and technology leaders about how they support and engage with their students. In this episode, we hear from a group that often gets overlooked in the conversation, the students themselves. In this EDUCAUSE exchange, we'll hear from three different students answering the question, how have you felt supported or challenged by your institution during this last difficult year?
Kristina Tucker: My name is Kristina Tucker. I go to Oregon State University, and I am a senior who is getting a bachelor of science degree in psychology. Also getting two minors. I got one in human development and family science and another in philosophy.
I am an eCampus student, which means that most of my classes are primarily online. While the school experience of doing my homework or attending classes didn't change much during COVID, the level of commitment that I could give to my classes definitely changed because all of my children were at home with me, and I have four children ranging from high school, junior high and all the way down to elementary school.
The challenge was trying to find time for me to study and get my assignments in on time while still having to help them navigate their own homework, be their teachers, and then also just dealing with the stress of the pandemic, all of us being home. Some of my instructors were really open to extending deadlines. I even had one professor who, realizing that there was a different kind of stress level that all students were feeling, he changed our final from a two hour exam with essay questions, and he actually opened up the exam and gave us the questions beforehand so that we could study them. The time of the test stayed the same, but he opened up the question so that we knew what to expect for the final exam.
However, there was other aspects, like when you need a proctor for your exam, especially as an eCampus online student, where you have to have someone watch you take your exam. That was difficult navigating. They do have Proctor U, which is an online proctoring center that will watch you take your exam. The slot times getting in was very hard to navigate because there were so many more people needing that service, and one difficult I had is Proctor U doesn't allow your children to come into the room or they'll fail you. That has nothing to do with my institution, of course, but my children are going to pop in. They don't always understand rules. That was something that was a little bit difficult for me.
I feel like Oregon state university really tried to support the students, and I can say from my own personal experience, my mentor and department director for the psych department, they both reached out to me right away and just said, "What can we help you with?" And previous or prior to the pandemic, I was working in a childcare center, and of course, so my job got shut down because of COVID, and they helped me navigate applying for certain student grants for housing, food insecurity, that really helped me and allowed me to not have to feel the stress of losing my job. That was amazing to me, the fact that they helped me navigate finding those resources. It really made me feel like I was a part of a community. Overall, I feel like my school helped. I feel like my instructors, my advisors, they reached out, they made sure that we were doing okay. While not every class that I had was flexible, there was also a lot of different flexibility in some classes and within the institution.
Gerry Bayne: Kristina Tucker is a senior at Oregon State University.
Mark Lannaman: My name is Mark Lannaman. I go to Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. It is my junior year in college, but by credits, I'm considered a senior, so that's exciting. I'm a journalism major with Spanish and geoscience as minors, so a pretty diverse field of studies that I'm studying. I have gone to many different types of school. I've gone to public schools, private schools, majority minority schools and vice versa, so I've really seen many different types of schools.
I've been really appreciative of the efforts. I mean, of course, before the pandemic, I had a rule of only doing one online class per semester because I would tend to forget things online and just focus on my in-person classes. And then of course, I go from one to six online, and so professors were really understanding and still are. If you miss an assignment, they give you a little bit of an extension. They have been more accessible, I would say, than in-person, because you can schedule a Zoom meeting pretty much whenever for most of my professors and in person, I usually had to meet them at their office hours and go to their specific office. They've been more accessible. They answer emails faster.
Of course, my courses have been very different, especially things like language learning. That's something typically you want to speak to another person preferably in person, but we still been able to do that over video calls. Journalism, that's something where it's a really hands-on field where you're dealing with cameras and audio and sound and everything. And ideally, you'd be interviewing people, which we couldn't do during this pandemic. There are some things we couldn't learn in person, at least at the beginning, at the onset of this pandemic.
Campus activities. Usually, they foster this sense of community, especially ... I'm involved in Latin American Student Association, Caribbean Student Association, and so used to have these events where you felt like you could find your community. And of course, it's different now when you're online, but you're still able to meet people with WebEx and Zoom. You really got to appreciate that even 20 years ago, this wouldn't be possible. 20 years ago, I'm not even sure how we could do school if it wasn't at school.
A lot of the policies, when this pandemic first happened, they extended the drop period, so they extended it by about a month. After your classes went online, you could drop that class and you wouldn't be penalized for it because they understood students didn't really sign up for this.
Most of my professors have really been reaching out to me and making sure we're all doing good. All of them pretty much have asked the first day of class, "How's everyone doing?" They've done mental health check-ins. I've gotten a lot of emails from the university. The advisors have been more accessible. All of these reasons, I've been really appreciative of the efforts the university has made. They've been giving us a lot of updates, whether it's vaccines, offering free testing, just information about the virus when it was first coming up.
They've tried to tell us stuff in advance. I was supposed to go on a study abroad trip, and while I'm disappointed study abroad was canceled this year, they told us well in advance so we could accommodate that into our schedules. I'm really appreciative, and that would probably be my prevailing theme of this whole thing.
Gerry Bayne: Mark Lannaman is in his junior year at Georgia State University.
Eeman Uddin: My name is Eeman Uddin and I am a sophomore at Georgia State University majoring in biology. Although I am a sophomore, this is my first year as a college student because I've done dual enrollment classes in the past, which has put me ahead. I really haven't gotten the chance to go to the downtown campus and experience college life in person.
I have attended high school online for four years, and my online high school and my online college platform and software are the same in terms of course navigation and course software and how it's set up. Because of that, it makes it easier to compare the two. Online college I think struggled a lot with professors learning to use that interface, the online interface, and translate their in-person classes on to the online platform. I had one economics professor who actually was so lost on how to navigate the online platform that he made us take our econ finals and exams on a piece of paper and take a picture and email it to him.
In the same way, I'm taking an Arabic course right now, and it's kind of awkward because the professor only knows how to teach Arabic on a whiteboard, and so it is a little bit awkward for that to happen because of the barrier of online and because not all teachers are experienced with using a whiteboard camera or having a certain setup and I think it's something that I think that they struggled with and they should have done better.
I think it took a pandemic for us to see the humanity in teaching and the humanity in having all students having access to certain resources and in particular, the gaps in education in terms of equity and inequality. We see that a lot of students during the pandemic didn't have proper technological support, didn't have resources and didn't have human outreach that they needed. And it took some time, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, for universities and institutions to realize it and take action for it.
A lot of students during this last year didn't always have constant electricity. I know my electricity cut out and then my water cut out, and so did so many other students. It's kind of interesting to see, though, that it took the pandemic for universities and teachers and institutions to recognize that there are those gaps. Having that aspect of humanity in education is very important. Having good counselors, I feel like universities and institutions could have done a lot of human outreach, making sure professors were all right and students were all right, and having a platform where students could reach out if they needed help outside of school or within school, trying to manage that inequality so that when we go back in person, that those gaps are no longer there, and I think coming up with sustainable, tangible solutions for those gaps is very important and we need professors and students to work together to make that happen so that when we do go back in person, that we don't go back to the same system that we had before.
Gerry Bayne: Eeman Uddin is a sophomore at Georgia State University.
Kathe Pelletier: We don't spend as much time listening to students when they're telling us about who they are and what they need. And in fact, we probably put up barriers.
Gerry Bayne: Kathe Pelletier is the director for the teaching and learning program at EDUCAUSE. She says, it's so important to serve the whole student in order to support real student success and retention.
Kathe Pelletier: The more that we can make a point to provide a safe space for students to share their lived experiences on campus, the better that we can support them both inside the classroom and outside the classroom. And I think the diversity of the student voices in this episode really reflects that it's not just a monolithic student voice, that each student has their own story to tell, and by really paying attention to those stories, we can learn about the diversity of needs that students bring, not just needs, but the diversity of talents and richness and wonderful stories that these students have to share with others that we can bring to light.
Gerry Bayne: If you'd like to find out more about supporting students and student success, check out the report entitled Academic Advising as a Tool for Student Success and Educational Equity. You can find it on the Advising Success Network by visiting www.advisingsuccessnetwork.org. That's advisingsuccessnetwork.org. I'm Gerry Bayne for EDUCAUSE. Thanks for listening.
This episode features:
Georgia State University
Director, Teaching and Learning Program
Oregon State University
Georgia State University
Chelsea Fountain, ed., Academic Advising as a Tool for Student Success and Educational Equity, National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, University of South Carolina, and the Advising Success Network, 2021.