UVA-Wise reminisces at COVID-19 anniversary

As of March 11, 2021, the coronavirus pandemic has been in the United States for a year. This means that it has been one year since the United States went on lockdown and restrictions were implemented. Here are some recollections from the student body and faculty here at UVA-Wise about how this past year has affected their lives.

One of the biggest changes for everyone here at Wise was the campus’ environment.

Autumn Stover-Bailey said, “Campus pre-COVID was definitely a vibrant and friendly place to be.”

Another concurred and said, “before covid campus was definitely more lively.”

This senior, Blake Stinson, even recalled “walking around campus to watch intramurals or other on campus events.”

However, it is not only the campus seniors who recall life prior to COVID-19 being lively.

One of the Residential Advisors, Rachel Gibson, mentioned how “there was always something spontaneous and exciting to do.”

Due to COVID-19, this past year was nothing like what everyone had originally planned and with the coronavirus the life and vibrancy that was once here is gone.

The campus environment was not the only aspect of life that was new and different. The faculty and student body had to adapt to the abrupt lockdown of college. The main challenge for everyone was how the current and following semesters would continue until this pandemic is over.

One of the professors was a part of several committees to try determining function and forward, for what would be the best for everyone. Doctor Robin Woodard even said “that was very challenging because we had no way of knowing what the virus was gonna do, you know how long it was going to continue to spread and whether or not we would be able to bring students on campus at all…”

The committees ended up keeping the students at home for the Spring 2020 semester as it was the safest option and classes ended up being completely online. Woodard who was a part of the committee also mentioned that the sudden change suddenly made it very confusing and hard to keep up with the material for both the students and professors themselves.

For the 2020-21 academic year, classes were given three different options to be held, either face to face, online synchronous, or online asynchronous. Face-to-face classes are the classes that are still in person, but the only difference is that the class sizes are smaller which helped accommodate for the CDC guidelines. The online synchronous classes are classes that are online, but still have regular class times and meetings. The online asynchronous classes are classes that are also online, but instead of having regular meeting time, there are assignments and tests that are due on certain dates.

Even though these options are the safest options for everyone, there are still a lot of mixed emotions behind it.

Stinson said, “I feel like class is similar pre-covid to present. Classes are obviously smaller but overall class has changed very little.”

However, most said they did notice a change. Mei Lin Ni when referring to online classes said, “there’s nothing about it that was enjoyable, um, for me it was easy to zone out for online classes.”

One of the professors even mentioned how with the online classes, it was harder to get to know the students and be able to engage with them more.

On top of the new format of classes, both the professors and students had to adapt to a block schedule during the fall semester and then back to the normal sixteen-week schedule for the spring semester. There were also some mixed opinions on block schedules overall. Out of the six interviewees, only one seemed to have anything positive to say about the block scheduling.

Stinson said, “I enjoyed the block schedule honestly. My schedule was front loaded so I had a lot of downtime the last half of the semester.”

In contrast, one senior seemed to only have negative thoughts about block scheduling. Stover-Bailey said, “The block semester was the worst semester I have had in my five years of college.” Everyone felt that they were rushed and did not have enough time to fully comprehend each courses’ material and that with the longer lecture hours it was harder for students to keep engaged with the lectures. Overall, it seems like everyone from the professors to the students felt that block classes were not the right choice for COVID-19 and are glad to be back to the normal sixteen-week schedule.

Due to the new formatting of classes, professors are forced to accommodate for the pandemic by changing how they teach. Doctor Woodard said, that to adjust to online learning, she started to add narration to existing PowerPoint lectures and prerecorded labs to make it easier on the students to try and get as much information as they can. Woodard also discussed that to accommodate for the online classes, the classes test would be open book, since there was no way to curb possible cheating.

Woodard did say, “taking an open book test, usually leads to not understanding or learning the material as well.”

Another professor, who wishes to remain anonymous notes that transferring to online and hybrid learning was not as difficult for them due to them already having “about ten years of online experience at that point, so fundamentally that was not, it was stressful, but it wasn’t that disruptive.”

This anonymous professor already knew that students would need better communication with them, which lead to a bombardment of instruction and videos and layout of everything that was going to happen. To adapt to grading, instead of giving out exams, this anonymous professor adapted to discussion and presentation work instead and for when an exam is necessary, they give open book, open note exams with only two rules, “no texting each other and cannot surf the web.”

This one anonymous professor is putting a lot of faith in the school’s system and honor code, but also told the students that they will know if it was looked up or not due to rather or not the information given has anything to do with what was specifically lectured in class.

Another important aspect that was brought to attention due to COVID-19 is mental health. One of the professors that was interviewed, had a lot to reflect on when it came to this ideal.

One professor, who wished to remain anonymous,said the pandemic “forced us to recognize we’re on a systemic level, I think, at least for me, you know? I actually started talking to my students in class about mental health issues, that I have never done before, because you know, I was feeling it and I know the students are feeling it and its like halfway through the Block A, I just stopped and went mental health check day.”

The fact that this professor was able to acknowledge the pandemic’s effect on everyone’s mental health, allowed for her to realize that sometimes everyone just needs a breather and time to just let it all out. It was also a way for this professor to form another connection with their students.  By changing the student-professor relationship from being strictly professional to allowing for the discussion of bad days, showed to the students that professors are human too and they also get overwhelmed.

The coronavirus pandemic heavily impacted the seniors of the Class of 2021.

For Stinson, COVID-19 did not affect them nearly as much as it did for other since they were already working a full-time job on top of attending college.

Stinson said, “covid has definitely effected my college experience over the last year. However, I have a full-time job that takes up most of my time so the effect void has had in my college experience this year is likely minimal compared to others.”

Whereas for the other senior, Stover-Bailey, the virus made their senior year more challenging than they initially thought it was going to be.

Stover-Bailey claimed, “This wasn’t how I expected my senior year. I think the thing that has been the most challenging to deal with is the graduate school application cycle. Due to COVID, programs have pulled funding, cut funding, cut cohorts, and decreased TA opportunities for admitted students. This has made programs more competitive, and it seems like everyone I know that applied has not had the best results.”

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