After Three Semesters of Virtual Learning, Students and Faculty Discuss its Negatives and Positives

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Oraida Rodriguez and Gigi Bustamante / Contributing Writers

For over a year, through video conferencing tools such as Zoom, FIU professors have taught their students remotely, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The transition brought a series of challenges for professors and students but has also helped some thrive in challenging times.

The reliance on virtual platforms to learn has steepened academic challenges like time management, motivation, and now, lack of in-person interaction. For others, the typical challenges from university such as commuting became less apparent and the workload more manageable.

“I feel like you don’t really have that one on one interaction with the professor. Especially with Zoom because people kind of tune out, there isn’t much interaction with the student and the professor,” said Tori Scott, an FIU fall 2020 graduate who majored in fine arts

Scott said the dynamic between professors and students was affected by having to conduct classes fully online. Despite the challenges of doing art classes through Zoom, she found herself more comfortable and overall more successful than in previous semesters.

Tori Scott’s paintings reside within her own backyard art studio, which was built by her parents.

To ensure she had a quiet place to study and paint, Scott’s parents built her a studio outside their home. In this studio, she organized her schedule and dedicated herself to her work.

“[In the Summer] semester I got all A’s and that was my first time getting all A’s and this [fall] semester I got all A’s too so I think [the pandemic] affected [my grades] positively,” said Scott. “Honestly I feel like some of my teachers were more lenient now that we’re on Zoom.”

Some professors say the atmosphere of teaching a class through Zoom is different from an in-person experience.

“I feel there is an energy that cannot be recreated [virtually that accurately reflects physically] being in a classroom,” said Joe Ankus FIU College of Law professor. “There is a level of interaction and camaraderie that being together is just irreplaceable for me.”

Ever since most classes moved online, the once populated campus experience has been replaced by copious emails from professors and organizations trying to remind their students of assignments and events. 

David Agogo, professor of business discussed his strategy to meet his student’s needs.

“I was teaching [for] the first time remotely this fall. I decided to offer my students one on one meetings just to make sure they [were on track] because it was in the thick of the pandemic,” said Agogo. 

He teaches classes in information systems and business analytics, dedicating his days to helping students understand the material. However, as he was first learning how to teach virtual classes, he did not realize how time consuming these meetings would be.

“I lost three weeks of work because I had back to back 10 to 15 minute meetings,” said Agogo.

As a result of his full schedule, he had no time to do any deep research for personal projects.

Many students have transitioned smoothly and say remote learning allows them to have more flexibility with their time. 

For Frankie Pagliaro, a junior majoring in public relations, virtual learning is the reason he came back to school to get his degree.

“[Online learning] is helpful for me because I can kind of set my own schedule and I don’t have to drive anywhere, because Miami has terrible traffic,” Pagliaro said. “And that was one of the main reasons I couldn’t finish school because when I started, I got an offer in a job I always wanted to do.”

Pagliaro is now on his way to finishing school with a bachelor’s degree in public relations while working full time as a radio host for Y100 Miami, a local radio station.  He believes the opportunity to study online was what helped him stay on top of his coursework and his day to day life. 

Many students like Pagliaro are balancing school life, work, family and personal time.

However, as remote classes continue to take place against the backdrop of a pandemic other students are finding it difficult to concentrate. 

Marianna Ontiveros, a junior at FIU studying mechanical engineering, says her transition to virtual learning was harder than she anticipated. 

“I have not felt as comfortable as I thought I would be.” said Ontiveros. “I remember [last] spring, when we shifted from being in person to online, it was really hard to find motivation to study and dedicate the time to actually study.”

She believes that engineering concepts are more difficult to grasp when being taught online.

 “[Engineering classes] should be something that’s hands-on. Something you can see right then and there,” Ontiveros said.

Professors understand students face difficulties in an online learning environment and as such have found innovative ways to keep students engaged throughout their virtual classes.

Jessie Abouarab, a professor in the politics and international relations department, created assignments that required her students to think more creatively about the material of her migration and refugees class.

“I wanted to make sure I was giving my students work that required them to do some research, as opposed to giving them multiple choice answer tests, and think more critically about the topic”, Abouarab said. 

Abouarab acknowledged there are students who prefer face-to-face interactions. However, she said a fully virtual learning experience requires new ways of capturing and retaining students’ attention. 

“Letting [the students] choose how they wanted to present their findings, whether through a powerpoint presentation or creating their own website, was a fun way to keep them connected in a virtual setting”, said Abouarab.

Similarly, Agogo discovered a new strategy to garner the attention of his students. He redesigned one of his online business courses to be more interactive through the use of Zoom breakout rooms. 

The breakout rooms are used to split the meeting into more private sessions among the participants. Typically, professors use it to assign group work and encourage the students to work together while in a private session.

Agogo utilized this feature to split his class into groups so they could work together on assignments.

He acknowledged the Zoom breakouts could be limiting when compared to in person meetings, but at the same time also created new opportunities for engagement among his students as they would be able to work together in separate “rooms”. 

Ankus also had to come up with new ways to keep his students interested. When he noticed a decline in engagement, he began looking for new teaching methods. He found that getting dressed up in costumes to teach not only captured his students’ focus but promoted active participation. 

Professors and students alike continue to adapt to the rising challenges of the pandemic and virtual learning.

“The world is gonna fix itself you see, the world always fixes itself, we’ve seen this stuff before and when it goes back to normal, there’ll be lots of things that have to be done differently, as well as new ways of doing things,” said Agogo.

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