By Chase Duffy
Today is one of the last days, if not the last day, of this massive finals push I’ve been on over the last two weeks. In the span of that time, I’ve written between thirty and forty pages between all of my classes, moved my entire apartment, worked a couple of days (once my schedule got really hectic, I got a sore throat and was sent home for a couple days straight), and fallen asleep about four or five times more than I think I probably should have. The biggest issue that I have noticed is the difference between online and in-person classes, something which I have fairly extensive experience with.
Junior year of high school, I opted into my first online class of my academic career. I was not ready. In high school, I was pretty good at math. I scored okay on the math section of the ACT, was a part of a math club in middle school, and was on the half-advanced track in the study. Junior year, I enrolled in Pre-Calculus online and figured it would be a breeze. After all, I was good at math, right? Wrong. I ended up taking too long on the course and receiving an IP (In Progress) that carried over until my senior year. I finished the course that first semester of the next year, but I had taken myself off any advanced level math track for high school. And I had gotten my first taste of online classes. That next year, I refused to be defeated and enrolled in one other online course along with math. This course, a health program, was literature-based, and I had the lessons I had learned in pacing from the past year. By the time Christmas came, I had completed my work up until May and had finished the Pre-Calc course as well. From these experiences, I learned a couple of general rules that I’ve been abiding by with online courses ever since, rules which have been blown to smithereens with the advent of this Covid-19 pandemic.
Rule #1 – Pace Yourself!
Pace! Pace! Pace! The secret to passing online courses sounds like a bad salsa party. Without pace, students are bound to fail in the online forum. Teachers often give a mountain of work which the student can then work through at their own pace; many of my classes have given all the materials needed to complete the course on day one, while others dole it out in two or three content drops throughout the semester. Either way, one must be prepared to sit down and work. Class is class, school is school. Since I will be receiving the same degree either way, I try to keep myself from the misleading assumption that a course will be easier because it is online. With pace, another key tactic in online courses is to work ahead. Over the course of a semester, there are inevitably going to be a week or ten days where the work in classes hits a lull. It is at this time that I will try to devote a couple of days to working ahead on my online course work. Most online courses have a consistent due date (every Friday, every other Monday etc.) so I will try to stay ahead of schedule and turn something in on these days no matter what as well. With all classes online at this point, it has been harder to employ this tactic over the last six weeks.
Rule #2 – Don’t Overload Yourself
One of the most important rules which I have held to with online classes, one which is impossible to hold to now, is this: don’t overload yourself with online classes. I have found, contrary to popular belief, that online classes are actually a tad harder than in-person classes. You lose the face-to-face contact and prescribed communication time with your instructor and classmates, and the onus of completion is completely on you. For this reason, I have tried to limit my online enrollment to one (or an absolute max of two) classes per semester. One may ask why I have enrolled in any at all given what I have just said. It is because online classes provide a level of flexibility and freedom in one’s schedule, something I need to be a student-worker and pay my tuition. Anyway, clearly this rule is impossible given the pandemic and complete transition to online course. I do feel that this is the most stressful aspect of the semester for me. I don’t mind dealing with the onus of completion and the loss of in-person contact, for two classes a semester; for seven, it has been quite overwhelming though. And I say that this has been the most stressful aspect for me, but that is for me. Rule #3 may be causing some STEM majors more migraines than I could count in my English major lifetime.
Rule #3 – Don’t Take STEM Courses Online!
This is a rule I have held to faithfully ever since that fateful day junior year when I enrolled in Pre-Calculus online. I know some people may be snickering, scoffing, and guffawing at this section, at the fact that I was unable to pass a high school math course online in nine months. But let me tell you something: some math necessitates a teacher. I was an absolute fish out of water in that online math course because of a few key concepts that I didn’t understand. I’m positive with the help of a teacher I would have completed the coursework without issue. Now, I’m sure with ZOOM and BlackBoard Collaborate there is a slightly raised level of virtual instruction from what I had in high school. But I cannot imagine having to complete six courses in engineering and math, online, within what is a couple of days at this point. I enumerated the pages and pages of writing that I have done recently, but I do love writing, analyzing literature, reading great works of art and discussing them. I love the fact that I am being trained to produce large volumes of writing, something which I hope helps propel me to creating this novel post-graduation. And I know a fair amount of STEM majors personally that don’t like their major, period. It has been hard enough to find motivation to do the things I love over the last couple of weeks; I can’t imagine having that work be complex formulas and concepts which sometimes necessitate a teacher’s explanation.
All I can say is thank God I’m an English major. I just can’t wait until this full online stuff is finished so I can get back to these cores and principles I’ve been holding to for four years now.