Second year Bakersfield College student Skylar Plonta has a lot to worry about now that the coronavirus has affected an important part of her life.
The early childhood education major’s classes recently transferred to a virtual platform, which would be doable if she had a computer at home. Her laptop was stolen, so she was utilizing the college’s library, stocked with several computers, to get as much work done. However, with the campus closed as of Thursday, she wasn’t sure how she would complete her work the rest of the semester.
She also has a class for which a certain number of observation hours are required in order to receive her teaching certificate. With local schools temporarily closed, “It’s kind of difficult to do the work in the format that they want,” she said.
BC and Cal State Bakersfield have shifted all in-person classes to an online platform in order to protect students from any potential exposure to the coronavirus. It was a necessary move, students say, but one that still has some scratching their heads in terms of how the rest of the semester will play out.
Students had a mix of emotions when it was announced classes would no longer be held in their traditional classroom settings. BC business administration major William Aleman said he doesn’t really mind what platform a class is in “As long as I pass the class. That’s what matters to me.”
Susan Rodriguez, junior English major, said she was “pretty stoked” initially at the thought of not having to come to school, but then reality hit her.
“I’m feeling a little stressed out and overwhelmed by the changes. I have some professors who’ve admitted to not being very tech savvy,” she said. “I prefer face-to-face interaction and a lot of students agree.”
Several of her professors were still working out how to transition to an online method earlier this week before they fully take off March 27. One was even lecturing via email Tuesday. “I think it’s just as stressful to them as it is to us.”
Other students were happy to hear they were canceling in-person classes, showing them their health and safety were at the forefront. However, Samantha DeLaCruz, senior interdisciplinary studies with a concentration on women, gender and sexuality and psychology major, was surprised that everything was moving online, rather than canceling classes altogether.
She hasn’t been too worried about the switch because she’s taken online classes in the past. But, when deciding between the two, she prefers being in the classroom.
“They’re not my favorite. I feel like it’s busier work and less engaging, but they’re definitely doable,” she said.
‘The quality of education in person versus online is very different’
Students’ biggest concerns with the switch to online is how it will impact their education. Some classes can have a somewhat seamless transition, while others are more enriching in-person.
Maria Contreras, CSUB senior political science major, was accepted in the Court Observer Program where she watches legal proceedings and speaks with judges and attorneys at the Kern County Superior Court.
Since it’s an experience-based course, there’s just no good way to replicate it online.
“We’re really not going to do observations,” she said. “We’re going to lean toward reading about law cases rather than seeing court proceedings.”
“It was very frustrating to me. It’s my most fun class, and I was looking forward to it most. There’s no way I can get that experience online,” Contreras added.
She’s also not the biggest fan of learning online. She said she took “easy classes,” such as history, art and communications online before, but for her core political science classes, she learns better if there is interaction between her and her professor.
“The quality of education in-person versus online is very different,” she said. “I understand the severity of the (coronavirus) situation, but it is going to hurt a lot of people in many ways they don’t realize.”
The two campuses have also had to face the reality that not every student has access to a computer or tablet at home. To help in that regard, the financial aid department at BC provides computers to those needing assistance, while CSUB had a Chromebook distribution on campus Thursday and Friday. Plonta received good news on Friday: BC would be providing her a laptop come Monday.
BC President Sonya Christian said her faculty members have been preparing for the move to online since February, giving them more time to develop online class materials and lectures.
“It is what made it different for our BC faculty than many of our colleagues across the nation and state,” Christian said. “We were in high gear in educating our campus.”
For the most part, professors at both schools have utilized: Canvas, a learning management system, to upload class materials; Zoom, a video conferencing application, to broadcast their lessons in real-time; social media; or a combination of all of these.
But obviously there are still challenges many face.
Though Richard Gearhart, CSUB assistant professor of economics, knew he would eventually move his two macroeconomics classes online, it’s been difficult to figure out what methods works best. One class is an introduction to the topic that many other universities have provided templates for doing online, while the other is theory-based, making it more challenging for students to wrap their heads around.
He tried two different approaches. First, a livestream using an easel as a board. Students could ask questions in real-time, but sometimes the sun’s glare would obstruct their view of the board. Another approach was posting a prerecorded lecture online, but that way he can’t track how many students actually watched the video.
He has some time to figure out his preferred method, and overall he’s remaining optimistic.
“I know faculty would prefer face-to-face, it’s a better method, but I think we’ll get the students most of the way there and eliminate most of the gaps,” he said.
Both campuses do provide resources to faculty members who may be struggling with the transition. At BC, the Academic Technology department has been working with faculty to show them different strategies to use. Christian also holds daily Zoom conference calls which give faculty members a chance to share what online platforms have worked with them so far and what challenges they have run into. CSUB’s Faculty Teaching and Learning Center also has instructional videos available online, and professors across campus are holding trainings for their colleagues via Zoom.
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