By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer
The transition to online learning brought an onslaught of new challenges for everyone in academia: finding a space to work while at home, navigating the increased amoung of Canvas assignments, and the dreaded Zoom fatigue. Combined with the existing stresses of normal student life, these added pressures could make effective learning more difficult for any student.
Since Washington College switched to remote in March 2020, I have had many moments in which I felt I was struggling to hold my head above water academically. Assignment descriptions got hidden in the bowels of Canvas, I mixed up meeting schedules for classes, or I waited over a month to receive an email response from a professor.
But I am a neurotypical student. These hurdles, while sometimes upsetting or anxiety-inducing, are entirely manageable for me. My experiences are not universal.
“It’s a challenge for everyone — and for students with disabilities, there are additional complicating factors, since their transition to virtual learning also involves the transition of their systems of support,” Nicole Eredics, education specialist for The Inclusion Lab, said in a Sept. 2020 article published on brookespublishing.com. “If these supports aren’t transferred effectively to a virtual learning environment, students with disabilities are at risk of exclusion from the education to which they are entitled.”
Eredics explained that supplemental services and curriculum modifications may have initially been difficult to organize and incorporate in an online learning environment, but they are essential to ensure the success of all students.
I have not seen any of my professors post written transcripts of their lectures, and some do not record synchronous lectures for later viewing. While these actions require additional work on the part of the professor, they allow students the opportunity to process information at their own rate.
Some students feel uncomfortable asking professors for these resources, as there is sometimes an ill-placed suspicion that they will be used as an excuse to miss synchronous meetings. On the contrary, these materials can supplement live lectures and serve as a valuable study tool.
Exams in an online setting have also proved a unique and troublesome endeavor for myself and my peers. The experience varies based on the professor proctoring the exam, but issues tend to arise when we are restricted to a short block of time to complete the assessment, such as when an exam is only available for a three-hour window.
Unlike when we are on campus and have a more structured schedule, non-academic responsibilities may make it difficult for students to block out such a time window. If I have a three-hour exam at 2 p.m. on a day I must be at work at 3 p.m., I am not afforded the full amount of time to complete the exam.
Students in need of additional time on exams can also find it difficult to successfully complete an exam structured this way. Opening exams for a full 24-hour period, even if there is still some sort of time limit once the student begins testing, would allow everyone to take the tests at the pace that suits their needs.
WC students receiving academic accommodations have said that the Office of Academic skills has done an adequate job ensuring their specific needs are met. Moreover, many agree that professors have largely been proactive and open to communication about how they can help their students.
“Every professor has reached out in class [to ask] how they can better help us academically and personally through this. Many of my professors have opened up new communication channels to supplement physical interaction and questions,” junior Evan McCarthy said.
It is essential that professors are aware of the challenges we face and willing to adapt their ways of teaching to ensure each student has a fair opportunity to learn, particularly in the case of students with learning differences.
Thus far, professors have demonstrated they can be flexible and accommodating in an online environment. When we return to in-person instruction, professors should use this time as a way of informing future teaching.
“I am actually really interested to see how [remote learning] changes the communication between students and professors in the future. How will office hours change? How will the way we use email and other platforms change?” McCarthy said.
If asynchronous video lectures, additional virtual office hours, and due date flexibility could be successfully implemented while online to deliver a better learning experience, these tools should continue to be used once in the classroom again. Because, for many students, academic challenges will not simply go away when we return to “normal” schooling, and these students have every right to an accessible and comfortable education experience.
Featured Photo caption: WC students with learning challenges consult with the Office of Academic Skills to get accommodations. Photo by Mark Cooley.