Most students don’t have the energy to run a marathon. Still, Concordia is now following a schedule that demands students academically get used to the trek. The new schedule excludes a mid-semester break (substituted by a mid-week respite day) and instead extended Thanksgiving and Easter break. It was created in hopes students would travel less over break and prevent COVID spread.
However, students have been struggling to push through the semester. Second-year Caroline Ronning feels that academically this year is much harder.
“First of all, I understand why they did it and they were hoping to minimize travel and the spread of COVID. But as a student, I am burnt out,” Ronning said. “Having no breaks and just plowing through everything feels like I can’t take a breath. It’s constant work all the time. Even when we had breaks, I used that time to catch up and study ahead. Not having that time is hard for me.”
Ronning feels that the disconnect of online learning has spread into other aspects of her life. Social aspects of a student’s life, as well as financial or health concerns, can have an impact on student success.
Director of the Center of Student Success John Andrick agrees that online learning heightens other concerns in a student’s life.
“Under the current circumstances, we can’t pretend like it’s only an academic issue. We have to start with the approach that there are multiple things that (a student and I) need to focus on. The academic issue is usually like a symptom and there’s almost always an underlying cause,” Andrick said.
Social aspects in students’ lives have been limited for safety reasons, but a disconnect has formed in the student body between each other and faculty.
“It really does stem from virtual attendance. You can be on a Zoom call with 20 other people but you’re not really getting to know them – they are just faces on a screen or voice coming out of your computer,” Andrick explained. “It doesn’t feel like the deep connection that we are all looking for, especially at a key time in a student’s life when they are moving on from high school friendships into adulthood.”
Librarian and academic advisor Ginny Connell also sees the struggles of online schooling for students.
“The (new schedule) may be a little bit more difficult in some ways because the longest, busiest part of the school year is January to spring break,” Connell reflected, “but I also suspect that by then we will also have a little more practice under our belt and that there will be a willingness from students and staff to break up the semester to make it more bearable in some ways.”
Andrick agrees with this mentality of finding ways to make this next semester easier for students.
“Because you don’t have that vacation built in the middle, it’s also about finding those ways to provide self-care and finding the natural breaks within the term, scheduling yourself some leisure time and incorporating those into every week instead of saving it up for a week-long break,” Andrick said.
Along with taking time for relaxation, Connell encourages students to be intentional with their academics.
“Online schooling requires discipline and the ability to pay attention because online (schooling) doesn’t always lend itself that,” Connell said.
As many students know, online schooling is an optimal option for quarantine because it is so isolating and can be attended with ease. However, Andrick feels that same comfort leads to students becoming distracted or developing negative schooling habits.
“Students who have a good routine for their face-to-face classes need to think about their online classes the same way. Students need to get ready for the day, prepare their minds for class and have a dedicated school space that shifts them into that mindset of being ready to learn. Structure matters,” Andrick emphasized.
Despite the challenges online schooling has created, it also has a bright side.
“People bond over hard times. It’s one positive, in a way. Everyone recognizes that it is rough this year, so people are more willing to offer support,” Ronning said.
Connell shares this sentiment, impressed with students following COVID guidelines and maintaining their academics despite hardship.
“I have been so proud of students. Down to each person, every student has been good spirited and generous with their attitudes with other people. Most are trying very hard to protect those in the community at-risk. Trying times can bring out the best in people,” Connell said.