Being just a little over two years removed from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the beginning of this school year is the closest to past normality for many colleges and universities.
The four freshmen English composition classes that I teach at Ohio State University’s Lima campus during the fall are in person. With the Zoom lull from online learning still being very much a hangover effect for many of my students, I’ve had to kindly remind them that our course format is not hybrid; however, I can tell they are thrilled that they will not be spending their entire semester listening to lectures through their computer screens.
One of the first articles that I assigned my classes to read focuses on the challenges that an incoming college student is still struggling with since COVID’s stronghold in 2020. The article is titled “‘I Didn’t Really Learn Anything’: COVID Grads Face College” and was written by Associated Press education reporter Collin Binkley.
Binkley interviews Angel Hope, a first-year student at the University of Wisconsin, who felt unprepared for the rigors of college courses. Binkley shares that a third of Angel’s high school years were spent online, which caused frustration that often resulted in homework being “brush(ed) aside.” Angel’s teachers relaxed their standards and passed students for simply submitting assignments, causing her to feel that “school was optional.”
Most of my students went through the same learning disruptions as Angel did, and here are some of their responses:
“The last few years of my high school experience were very similar to Angel’s. The pandemic hit when I was in my junior year of high school. It was around March of the year when we were sent home due to rising health concerns. The classes did get more lenient overall, and it was easy to maintain a good grade point average. The teachers at my school were trying to help students with the subjects they were teaching. My school had Zoom classes that were easy to not pay attention to. I feel that I am behind, not from the pandemic, but from me taking a gap year before starting college this year.”
“Well, I can relate to Angel almost completely. My situation for my sophomore year was practically the same. I also missed some Zoom classes and missed a lot of assignment due dates, and I was still able to pass the classes. The teachers were so lenient, so I was able to turn in assignments, late assignments, as long as I emailed them to let them know that I’d done it.”
“I can definitely relate to Angel’s story in this article. There were numerous changes in school when COVID hit. We went from multiple class assignments every day and then when we went online all of that changed. We would often have assignments assigned at the beginning of the week that would be due at the end. The problem is, though, you could have all of them done in that one day and potentially have the rest of the week off. There were also some job shadowing opportunities that my grade lost due to COVID that all prior grades did. In the end, I think many students enjoyed less work, but I think we ended up losing some discipline that was crucial in preparing us for college. Our assignments became much easier and the grading way more lenient.”
It was evident to me from these comments and many others that my students are ready to get back to a structured classroom setting with detailed feedback and grading from their college professors. I reflected on these sentiments from my classes when I read a global study recently published in The Conversation by University of Toronto PhD students Blake Lee-Whiting and Thomas Bergeron.
Lee-Whiting and Bergeron surveyed 4,812 students in 78 countries and found that the traditional “university experience” before COVID is what they desire to have. The social interaction of academic clubs along with programs to promote student health and well-being were among the top issues respondents felt were vital in returning to campus in person.
I, along with my Lima colleagues, have been encouraging students to attend university events and get involved in extracurricular activities. One of the issues that Lee-Whiting and Bergeron mentioned that truly resonated with me is “a safe, social return.”
I will never take the opportunity to teach face to face for granted again, and I’m grateful to God for His blessings in keeping me healthy and safe in doing what I love. So far, my semester has been great, and I’m excited for a productive and engaging year!
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @JjSmojc. Her opinion does not necessarily represent the views of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.