WATERTOWN — The COVID-19 pandemic may have put a halt to learning in traditional classroom setups, but Jefferson Community College students and professors have returned to their classes this week — just virtually rather than physically.
While many may not consider themselves online learners, preferring to interact with professors and peers in person, and feel like they’re missing out on the “college experience,” JCC students have made the necessary adjustments to further their education during these uncertain times, with their professors working each day to provide them with necessary content and answer their questions as best they can.
JCC’s remote learning includes correspondence work, synchronized sessions using Zoom and Collaborate, virtual labs, and pre-recorded videos that students can watch on their own time.
Jeffery Cole, an adjunct public speaking instructor at JCC, has been teaching with the college for about 12 years. This is his first time teaching remotely.
“It’s not really an easy thing to teach over the internet,” he said. “For people to speak in public and overcome their fear of doing that, they need to have an audience in front of them.”
He explained that in public speaking, having those nerves before speaking in front of an audience is natural and necessary for success. In class, like in real life, students get one chance with their speeches. At home, recording the speeches themselves, they can easily press delete and start again if they aren’t happy with their performance.
Mr. Cole has been recording lectures from his house and uploading them to YouTube for students to watch. Soon, he hopes to do more one on one video chats with them to answer any questions they may have and make sure they’re understanding the material.
“When I teach online, I’m looking at my iPad and my iPad isn’t shaking its head to let me know it understands,” he said. “In public speaking, feedback is crucial to know you’re effectively communicating and I’m not currently getting that from my students.”
According to JCC student Erica Dixon, 20, a junior who will be getting a business degree this semester and transitioning to allied health and biological sciences, organization is key to online success. Having taken two online classes before the pandemic closed the college and now taking four classes that transitioned to an online format, she recommends using a planner or some sort of calendar to mark everything that’s due and prioritize assignments with regard to what is due the soonest,
“Use your time wisely and never wait to do the work the day of; it’s just awful and your grade will reflect that,” she said. “You have to be really dedicated with finding out what chapter you’re on and what materials you need — you have to be on top of things without someone there to tell you when they’re due.”
With limited access to Wi-Fi and a job working at Price Chopper, Ms. Dixon tries to get a majority of her homework done on her days off, but when those are few and far between, she will come home from work and make sure she devotes time to her studies in order to stay on track.
Though in-person communication with professors is not currently possible, she recommends that students stay in contact with them so they know students are putting the effort in.
Last April, Oliver Youst, an associate professor of physics at JCC, broke his hip and ended up in the hospital. Instead of taking a break from teaching, he started making lectures right from his hospital bed and teaching online that way.
Though he was never formally trained in how to teach remotely, he said the events of last year helped prepare him, out of necessity, to teach online during the current pandemic. Of all the aspects of the three courses he is currently teaching, he said lab is what changed most dramatically.
Rather than Mr. Youst being there to assist students in person, the online labs are more simulations and inquiry based now, with some flipped to where he gives students a general idea of what he wants and they develop a lab themselves.
“If I can’t get a complex thing across, I can use Collaborate and share my whiteboard with students,” he said. “For me, the hardest part is not seeing and interacting face to face with students, seeing from faces what they’re not able to understand. There’s a real give and take in the classroom more than people realize how much you rely on the students.”
Some days, Mr. Youst gets up at 8 a.m. and works until 8 p.m. trying to get everything done, from coming up with lectures to recording them and uploading them for students. He recommends professors have good equipment to use to record and make sure to have backups in place for when things inevitably go wrong.
“I have what I normally use, a Mac computer and tablet,” he said. “If that goes down, I have a tablet, and if that goes, I have an iPad.”
For 20-year-old student Savanna Baker, a sophomore graduating in May with a degree in humanities and social sciences, this is her first time studying remotely.
Classified as an essential employee due to the fact that she works at a pharmacy, she enjoys having more freedom with her schedule to be able to accommodate more work hours and still keep up with classes. While there have been kinks here and there with students and professors navigating the world of online learning, she said people have been very understanding and work together to come up with solutions.
Currently taking four classes online, she has dedicated a different room of her house for studying different subjects. Because English is more laid back, she works on that in the living room. For her harder science class, she uses her home office to keep things more structured.
Her advice to fellow students during this time of uncertainty is simple:
“Don’t let this whole pandemic throw off your career,” she said. “Don’t isolate yourself completely, stay in contact with peers because you can go to them for help if for some reason you’re having a hard time reaching professors.”