Student Perspective: The Transition to Online Learning


Over the past three weeks, I’ve been obsessively checking my inbox and refreshing my Canvas messages, waiting as my professors, supervisors and Brown School faculty have gradually shared information about the adaptations to our new learning environment. I’ve been coordinating significant changes to 10 classes while transitioning two jobs and one practicum to a remote schedule. The logistics of it all are overwhelming.

After a week of virtual learning, I’ve had to adapt to a go-with-the-flow mindset. I came into the week with strong opinions about who had made the “right” and “wrong” choices. Going into the second week, it’s pretty clear that there is no one right way to handle this crisis. All of my professors have planned shorter classes, and a few have moved to pre-recorded video lectures. They have largely acknowledged that students have other things going on right now and adapted their classes accordingly. The best any of us can do is recognize that there won’t be a semblance of business-as-usual. We need external support to ensure staying physically and mentally healthy can be our top priority at this time.

I’m lucky to be in an academic position where I can use the new pass/fail option for my classes. I’ve been wavering between taking pass/fail and taking letter grades. I’ve found myself thinking that taking the pass/fail option is taking the easy way out. If there were ever a time to take the easy way out, this would be it. Avoiding that harsh voice and giving ourselves some lenience around academics right now is going to be essential to making it through this epidemic.

Focusing has been hard—I have an anxiety disorder, and that means that concentrating on schoolwork can be hard even when there isn’t a global pandemic going on. I am definitely dealing with information overload around COVID-19. Like many of my peers, I live far away from my family and friends. It has been hard to focus on assignments that have limited application outside of the classroom. Schoolwork is hardly relevant when I am worried that peers, family, and friends will fall ill, or that we will be laid off, or that we won’t find a job after graduation.

As someone who hates Skype/FaceTime/Zoom as a mode of communication, I was not looking forward to switching to 15+ person Zoom calls for a classroom environment. It seemed nearly impossible to participate in class discussions in this new format, and I was particularly worried about the 15-minute, two-person Zoom presentation I had to give in a Transdisciplinary Problem Solving class this week. The most surprising thing this week was how much easier it is to give a virtual presentation than an in-person presentation. I couldn’t see if people were paying attention or looking bored. The nerves I would normally have in this scenario went away completely. It’s a very thin silver lining, but it’s there, nonetheless.

I thought I would need increased flexibility, prerecorded lectures, and alternative assignments. And I have needed that flexibility, but I’ve found myself also really needing structure. Working exclusively from home gives me the chance to walk my dog five times a day, but it also means that I can really easily put tasks off indefinitely. I’m finding myself rushing to meet a deadline I’ve known about for weeks. I’m remembering how important a to-do list is, especially for allowing myself the time to prioritize tasks that normally don’t feel productive enough to engage in, like finishing a needlepoint I started in 2017 or mindlessly playing the Sims. I’ve spent a lot of the last three weeks reconsidering what is going to be important for me during this quarantine, and I’m taking that into the coming weeks. I’m hoping that doing so will help me weather this uncertain time.

Lands, from Denver, is an MSW/MPH student in her second year at the Brown School.