What Students Want Colleges to Know About COVID-19 Shutdowns


What Students Want Colleges to Know About COVID-19 Shutdowns

By Jeffrey R. Young     Apr 1, 2020

What Students Want Colleges to Know About COVID-19 Shutdowns
Students shared their advice and perspectives during a live online discussion this week co-hosted by EdSurge and Future Trends Forum.

This article is part of the guide: Sustaining Higher Education in the Coronavirus Crisis.

Most of our coverage of the COVID-19 emergency has focused on talking to educators and administrators about how they’re responding and adjusting to life under school and college shutdowns.

But what about the perspective of students?

For our latest installment of the weekly EdSurge Live online discussion series that we are running jointly with Bryan Alexander’s Future Trends Forum about COVID-19 response, we invited three students from different types of colleges to share their stories and give advice to college professors and leaders.

As these students describe it, the move to shut down campus has been emotional, and they have suggestions for what kind of teaching works best now that instruction is online.

Our guests were:

  • Audrey Mullen, a student at Boston College and a former intern at EdSurge who has written op-eds about how colleges should use edtech.
  • Luz Elena Anaya Chong, a student at Texas State University and a resident adviser there.
  • Adrienne Davis, a student at Milwaukee Area Technical College who writes for the campus newspaper there.

At one point early in the discussion, several participants attempted to disrupt the proceedings by posting slurs in all caps in the chat window, part of a phenomenon called Zoombombing that we recently wrote about. Our moderators did their best to quickly disable public chat and ban the users who were violating our usage policy, but the incident was a reminder to anyone planning public events on Zoom to be aware of this online vandalism trend. We found more tips for those running Zoom sessions here.

Watch the complete forum below:

Or listen to the full discussion on our EdSurge Live podcast feed:

You can also read the highlights from the partial transcript below, which has been lightly edited for clarity.

Jeff Young: Let’s start by introducing the students who are here and let them tell us what their experience of campus shutdowns was like.

Audrey Mullen: At Boston College, we have a very early spring break. So [spring break] was the first week of March, and that was back before there was all this pandemonium around coronavirus. So we were able to have our full week spring break. In that time period, I had friends go to Madrid, I had friends go to Europe. We went to Florida, all these different places. Then we came back to BC on Monday, and rumors were flying around about [campus shutting down] because Harvard shut down on that Monday [which is nearby].

There was a lot of speculation. [Then on Wednesday,] I was in the library at 5:15 p.m. and got an email. We were thinking that we were going to maybe be there, or maybe take a two week hiatus, or the different options that they talked about initially throughout the process. Then we basically got an email that was like, you have to move out by Sunday, and so classes are over. Being in the library, working on a problem set in the middle of that, I immediately closed the computer, walked outside, and all the seniors are crying.

The moment the email was sent, on that Wednesday, was pandemonium walking through senior housing. It was like the antithesis of a tailgate. So everyone's there just crying … and just saying goodbye to everyone. And then by the Sunday that we had to leave. It was a pretty sad day for everyone.

Elena Chong: For us it was very different, because we have a later spring break, so usually it starts for almost every college on the 9th, but for us it started one week later. So, when Harvard shut down, we didn't know what was going to happen. It was just very nerve-wracking because it's like, OK, these universities are closing, but what is our university going to do about it?

I work as an RA, a resident adviser, for one of the dorms, and I was like, am I keeping my job? What is happening to all these children that are living here in the dorms? I knew for a fact that all these kids that were kicked out of the dorms are homeless, some of them. So what is going to happen to all these kids? So, it was literally two weeks that we didn't know what was going to happen.

I think it was on Thursday before we went for spring break, our president sent an email, it was just like, hey, we're going to have one extra week of spring break to give our professors one week for them to plan everything out, because they have to transition all the classes online, and that's a very hard task to do.

Adrienne Davis: So, what's going on at our school, it was a really big domino effect, too. I also work part-time as a library aide at a high school.

When we first heard about the corona here, the first major school that took action was University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. There was, I think, one person there that tested for it, and so that prompted the entire UW of Milwaukee system to shut down. The first email I got was saying that all of our classes were suspended until our spring break, and we will come back after our spring break. Our spring break isn't until April, and then the day after I got a notice at my job saying that the high school students were going on their spring break effective immediately as well.

It's been a little tough, because as a media student, we do everything hands-on. We do all our editing hands-on. We're out in the field, we're shooting stuff. We're interviewing people. We're putting together a newspaper, doing all these things, and it's very hard to do that through a computer. So, effective a few days ago, they told us that all of our classes were suspended indefinitely for the rest of the semester. They told us that our graduation was pushed until December, so we wouldn't have our graduation anymore. And that a majority of our main classes are now online now.

One of my advanced editing classes has to be pushed back, I believe until the fall, because since it's a more advanced class, there's just no way that they can put together a course that would be effective for us to still learn how to do it out of software, and make sure that we're all aware of what we're doing.

I was supposed to start at University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee in January of next year to do the digital arts and culture program. Now I may not be able to do that until maybe spring or the summer. So it has just really been a domino effect.

[Audience question]: What advice would you give to your faculty regarding online lectures? And how could faculty better use live ones?

Mullen: I would say be accommodating to time zones. I have a friend who is from Hawaii, and so she has a class from 3:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. on her Tuesdays and Thursdays. That is not conducive to learning. That is not what you're paying over $50,000 a year for at Boston College.

I would also say that in terms of online lectures, it's being engaging. But it's awkward in a Zoom call when you ask for an answer and nobody's going to respond. Nobody wants to. I've had professors do a lot of cold calls, and normally I don't love cold calls, I really actually don't like them at all, but I'd say in the terms of the Zoom classroom, it's really one of the most effective ways to get participation. That's what I've noticed within my classes, because the classes that they leave it open-ended, nobody responds.

Chong: From my perspective, I don't think the time zone really matters because most of our students are from Texas. But I do think that the flipped classroom would really work for a lot of people. I have experienced it before, and I really like it, how they [send a video of a] lecture before class, and they just bring your questions right into [live] class. So, I would encourage professors to do more of a flipped classroom, where they send the material, and then do the Zoom meeting for questions and [discussion].

I experienced today being put in a break-out room [in Zoom] when I was in a tutoring session, and I feel like that space was more approachable because it's less people, and then you feel less put on the spot.

[Audience question]: I know that some institutes these days are starting to come to grips with the fact that they need to think about what they're going to do in the fall. I just read from one person that he suspects students won't want to enroll in essentially an online college because they really want that on-campus experience and they want the face-to-face. I just wondered what you guys think about that. If things are still online come September, would you enroll?

Mullen: I know for myself, in the fall I'm supposed to be studying abroad in Ecuador. So that adds an extra layer.

I know that if classes went all online, and abroad is canceled, I would figure out a way to be in Boston [and still enroll]. I know that that is something that a lot of my peers would do as well. We'd all try to live off campus.

Chong: Yes, I still do plan to go back—because, I mean, it's college. Even though it might be online, because we don't know when this pandemic's going to end, I still need to take my classes. I still want to take advantage of what the college is offering. I'm not sure if I will move back to where my university is, which is San Marcos. I will still take the classes online no matter what.

[Audience question] Would you prefer asynchronous experiences over synchronous ones? [Should classes be live or on-demand?]

Mullen: I like a combination of the two because if it's just [self-service] online, that doesn't really encourage people to go and to do it. But if it is only [a live] class, that is hard. It's hard to fully focus on a Zoom if you can't pause it and you can't record it and you can't look at your neighbor's notes.

Chong: In one of my classes, it is one day you have to go into the Zoom meeting, but on the other days, the teacher will assign us some work, and then we have to do it. … I really like that—that we don't have to meet every single day at a certain time. For some of them, they didn't make attendance mandatory as they used to in previous classes, but they're expecting us to go, because if you attend some Zoom meetings, they're giving you extra credit, or some motivation for you to still participate in class. So I think that's a good idea.

[Audience question] How you are dealing with your stress, and if you've been using anything like mindfulness apps, which are helpful for you? What are you seeing offered at your universities to help you de-stress?

Chong: What really helps me to de-stress is doing some exercise. So, because they changed laws and you cannot really go outside and do exercise, my school provided some workout videos at home. So that has been really helping me out.

Because if not, the stress is going to get too much. I keep getting emails from my professor and it's like, this is due, this is due. I'm uploading this. So, I remember one of my friends told me, "Just take a second and breathe a little bit."

Mullen: Oh I've been going on a lot of walks. I don't know about you guys. It's been kind of the big activity. That's a big thing of the day: Go on a walk.

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

Next Up

Sustaining Higher Education in the Coronavirus Crisis

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up