Students react to new reality of online learning

For students in Illinois, school was interrupted mid-semester after the enactment of the stay-at-home order and transition to online classes, and it looks like nothing’s changing any time soon.

Governor J.B. Prtizker officially announced on Friday, April 17, that all schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As of May 1, residents over the age of 2 are also required to wear masks in public.

“I’ve said time and time again my decisions are hard ones,” Pritzker said during the May 1 daily news conference. “But they will follow the science and the science says our students can’t go back to their normal routine.”

Finishing up the semester remotely has presented a new set of challenges for millions of students and instructors. At JJC, teachers were asked to quickly update and upload their course content online to iCampus within the span of about two weeks. As for students, they would have to either face their new reality or choose to withdraw.

JJC’s spring 2020 withdrawal policy was introduced via email to all students on April 6. Students could submit a virtual petition form to withdraw from any class(es) up until the April 23 deadline. Once their request was processed, they would receive a letter that their request had or had not been processed.

If a withdrawal was granted, the student would receive instructions on how to redeem his or her voucher, which allows them up to one year from the date of issue to re-enroll in the same course. Should the campus not return to full-time face-to-face instruction within a year, the deadline will extend.

According to JJC’s Dean of Students, Cindy Vasquez-Barrios, about 1,450 students have submitted withdrawal petitions. The top reason that students have chosen to withdraw from classes was due to disfavor with the online transition.

Another option for a withdrawal voucher request was if the student or someone in his or her family has contracted COVID-19. Should a student need to withdraw from a class(es) after the April 23 deadline, Vasquez-Barrios said a new general petition for withdrawal was opened on May 1.

“This is for special circumstances,” Vasquez-Barrios said. “Say you’re diagnosed with COVID or you had a car accident or some traumatic experience that keeps you from being able to complete your classes. We either would work with the faculty to help that student get an ‘incomplete’ for the course, giving them extra time to complete it, or if they can provide documentation, like medical admittance to the hospital, we can give them a late withdrawal grade.”

During this time, many students are deciding whether or not they should put a pause on their educational careers. Schools will be closed for the rest of the academic year, meaning the summer and possibly the fall semester will also be held remotely.

“Honestly, if I can’t do in-person classes, I will not be taking classes,” said Jamie Sedel, JJC vet tech major. “I do not like online classes if I don’t have to take them, and until the crisis is calmed, things will not be the same.”

Medina Khairallah, a JJC anthropology major, said she will continue even if classes are online.

“Personally, I will not be waiting for schools to reopen,” Khairallah said. “I am perfectly fine with taking online courses until it is safe enough for schools to reopen.”

Though teachers are making themselves as accessible and helpful as they can be to students during this time, students may need help from other resources. Student support offices, such as Financial Aid and Registration, are still available through phone and email. Some offices have even moved their services online, such as JJC’s library and Wellness Advocates. These resources can be accessed through students’ MyJJC portal.

As a person with a disability, Esli Ramos spoke about how the transition has been challenging for her.

“A struggle for me has been reaching out to offices for help,” Ramos said. “I am so used to going to the offices. I do enjoy talking to people on or off the phone, but was very hesitant when I first had to do that.”

As for classes, Ramos said she is concerned.

“I tend to understand things better face-to-face, even though I can’t see them,” she said. “But having them in front of me makes me more engaged and comfortable. It helps me understand things better rather than hearing lectures online or over a phone call.”

Online classes may certainly be foreign to a lot of people. Some students welcomed the big change with open arms, like JJC biology major Gabriella Siniscalchi.

“I thought [online classes] would be a positive experience because it’s something I’ve never tried before, but thought of taking them in the future,” said Siniscalchi. “I also thought it would be a good way of teaching self-discipline and time management.”

Although she’s optimistic, Sinicalchi has found there are a few difficulties she must learn to conquer.

“Initially, I was excited to get to experience a new way of learning, but nervous at the same time because I do not work good with technology at all,” Siniscalchi said. “I have encountered a few difficulties with this transition. I often get confused with assignment directions like where to find and open them and due dates.”

Many students taking non-general education classes may be having a harder time with the new transition, as it is more difficult to teach certain classes remotely. Sebastian Gonzales is a music major at JJC and says that his general education classes are not so much of a problem as his music classes.

“Arts can’t be taught virtually,” Gonzales said. “You have to be there in person. It’s really hard [working through a camera]. The resolution messes with you. There’s things that you can’t show on camera. How is the teacher going to correct any of my mistakes?”

Gonzales continued. “There’s a lot of issues with the internet. Whenever I try to have my lesson with my professor, it lags. It’s really gonna be a struggle. Zoom classes are not the same.”

The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic has surged a wave of uncertainty around the world, uncertainty of just about everything. No one knows when the number of cases and deaths will subside or when quarantine will end. No one knows for certain if they will even make it out alive.

Students certainly don’t know when they will officially return to school, as things are always changing and cases of the virus continue to rise. Internationally, the number of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 2 million with over 100,000 deaths, more than 67,000 of them in the United States. Even if the virus has not infected you or anyone you know, it has undoubtedly affected everyone in some way.