OPINION: Remote learning helps some students despite downsides

The transition from in-person classes to online classes has not only served as a significant experience for the faculty of DePaul University, but also for the students as communities within the institution continue to uplift each other during this tumultuous time. 

As someone who used to commute to DePaul’s Loop campus every day from Monday through Thursday in hot, humid, rainy and frigid weather, being able to take online classes was an opportunity that I cherished and took advantage of if my schedule allowed me to do so. It put my mental health more at ease that I could work on assignments and discussions within the safety and comfort of my own home, as opposed to waking up in the early hours of the morning to catch the Metra, hoping to make it to class on time. 

However, along with the thousands of students and faculty at DePaul, the community that is found within a classroom is missed dearly as close friends have moved back home and fellow peers continue to feel immense fear, anxiety and loneliness during this time. While the shift to online classes was quite sudden, students are taking comfort in their own safe spaces to not only ease their mental health, but to also come up with a more organized schedule of meeting deadlines for assignments. However, the essential core element of a classroom setting, communication, has not been the same. 

“Meeting deadlines have been quite fair for me since I am home all day,” said DePaul freshman Judy Zakieh.” I only have to meet with two of my teachers on Zoom, one of them once a week and the other twice. The difficult part regarding this aspect has been communication. A crucial part of my routine has become refreshing my inbox in case teachers have made any alterations to meeting details, or even course details. The current circumstances have really challenged my organization skills and ability to keep myself up to date with everything.” 

Students have also detailed that it’s become slightly harder to be effective in class discussions, because while it was so much more efficient in a classroom setting to branch off of points made by peers in discussions, it becomes a hassle of trying to mute and unmute your mic to prevent overlapping chatter during a lecture. 

“Something that I do miss about in person classes was how it was so easy to ask questions and bounce ideas from other peers’ questions as well,” said Sakina Naqvi, a sophomore at Ohio State University who moved back home to Chicago after the social distancing order went into effect. “I’m sure it also must have been a lot clearer for professors to determine whether or not students understood certain concepts by things such as nods and facial expressions.” 

Within my Zoom lectures, I’ve noticed that students are visibly more comfortable and relaxed in their rooms, sitting at their breakfast or dining tables, or even outside. The absence of stress coming from rushing to catch the CTA trains, grabbing a cup of coffee to provide some sort of warmth against the cold, navigating through the bustling city has resulted in students to spend more time with their families and pets at home. This extra time has also allowed students to take upon new hobbies and become more involved in the world of gaming with games such as “Animal Crossing.” 

“Shifting to virtual classes has honestly improved my mental health,” Naqvi said. “I sleep at least eight hours a night and begin my academics after having breakfast, which I often skipped when staying on campus in order to save those extra few minutes. While I definitely do feel the cabin fever every once in a while, I try to go outside for walks as long as it isn’t too cold.”

Despite the mental relaxation that may come with being able to work from home comfortably, students and instructors are now unable to fully engage in classes that require a great deal of field work to provide the necessary stepping stones of experience to assist when looking for jobs, internship opportunities or for post undergraduate programs. In the winter quarter, several students were eager to sign up for Rick Brown’s TV news reporting class; however, due to the strict enforcement of social distancing, the class was unfortunately canceled for the spring academic term. 

“I taught those classes every quarter for 10 years and canceling [the] Good Day DePaul program, you know, was really hard,” Brown said. “I mean, it’s something we’ve done every quarter and it was just difficult to come [to the realization] that we weren’t going to be able to do it.” 

He highlighted that the class didn’t encompass components that could be taught effectively over Zoom lectures since the classes rely not so much on assignments and quizzes, but rather concepts that students need to master in order to effectively work as a one-camera crew to report on critical news stories, which will add to their repertoire and help them land a job. 

“Students in Good Day DePaul class, they have to go out and [report] stories and yes, they could have done them from their apartments with, you know, interviewing people by Skype and all the rest, but a big part of the quarter is getting experience working as a one-person camera crew when reporting stories and they wouldn’t have had that experience doing it [just] from their apartments,” Brown said. “And the other thing is they wouldn’t have had the kind of stories that would have worked well on their demo reels, which is critical for getting a job.” 

Similarly, classes in photojournalism have been moved online, but Robin Hoecker, a photojournalism professor at DePaul encourages her students to take as many creative routes as they can within their own homes to master the art of visual storytelling. 

“I mean, a lot of the photojournalism classes focus on light and composition and it’s really about storytelling, and you can still do that from working [within] your house,” Hoecker said. “And so that’s kind of what we’re doing. That was like a big change with allowing students to cover themselves and cover you know, their friends and family.”   

It’s important that even during this fearful time, we continue to take care of ourselves both mentally and physically, because despite us being at home and unable to participate in our daily routines, this is the perfect opportunity for us to make sure that we establish healthy habits for ourself that we can utilize even after the social distancing order is uplifted. 

Anjali Uma Pandit, an assistant professor of medicine and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, highlighted that it’s important for us to surround ourselves with positive influences and to really take control of the amount of time we spend on social media. She highlighted that because we’re at home now and it’s easy to go on our phones and social media platforms, it’s crucial that we either limit ourselves to the exposure of such platforms during this time, or, limit our uses of them. 

“What I’ve been recommending, just people in general, my patients included, is, ‘Okay, what kinds of strategies do we have to manage what we can control,’” Pandit said. “So there’s so much in this world right now that we cannot have any sort of control over, you know, let me identify the things that I can control and focus on those. And that gives folks a sense of empowerment or grounding. So I would recommend the same you know, for the students that are struggling.” 

While the fear of the unknown still lingers and intensifies whenever a headline is released pertaining to the latest updates about COVID-19, students and faculty alike are  working together as a community to ensure the best learning experience while trying to maximize communication, flexibility and organization. It’s refreshing to see professors wanting to encourage conversation in the beginning of class for students to detail about the latest shows they’ve been watching, new hobbies that they’re trying out, new recipes they’ve discovered or to even share their feelings for the week; it is during this time that unbreakable bonds will be established that will be honored throughout the course of DePaul’s history.