by ALEXANDRA RETTER
College students are adjusting to trying to stay connected with friends and classmates amid the COVID-19 pandemic as they balance taking classes in a number of different formats.
Being on campus
On the Saint Mary’s University (SMU) campus, people are happy and friendly when they see one another in common areas, such as the campus’ plaza or the cafeteria, senior business management major Jake Hagstrom said.
He has found eating with friends to be a good way to stay connected with others, he said.
Senior English major Kris Shepard stated that before the pandemic, he appreciated being able to interact with many different people at the dining hall on campus, and he enjoying having the opportunity to engage with others through clubs and events. Not being able to do either as much as in the past has been a bit challenging, he said, but he is grateful to be on campus at all, and the difficulties that accompany it are worth experiencing so he can be at the university in-person, he added. “People are excited to be here, and you can tell,” Shepard noted.
Maintaining some social interactions has been a positive aspect of being on campus, senior literature and philosophy major Kendall Archer shared. Individuals have fostered more one-on-one friendships, she shared, as social distancing and occupancy rules impact how many people may be invited to gatherings.
Sophomore political science major Jonathon Krull shared that he and his fellow students have gotten in the habit of sanitizing classroom spaces after use and eating meals with small groups of people instead of an entire large friend group.
He is involved with encouraging students to register to vote as well. Instead of tabling around campus, he is assisting with a virtual voter registration drive.
Shepard is involved with several sports teams, such as the ultimate frisbee team and a club soccer team, which have not had competitions this fall. He has still been able to practice in small groups, he said. “For me, it’s been all about finding ways to do things I enjoy while being safe,” Shepard shared.
To stay connected with others, Shepard interacts with individuals in class, when walking through common areas on campus or when outside hiking or playing disc golf, he said.
Junior public relations major Kelly Ferguson enjoyed participating in virtual bingo via Zoom recently, she shared, as bingo has taken place in-person in the past, so the virtual event felt like a different version of a typical community event.
Hagstrom is a member of the men’s ice hockey team, which has not yet met for practice. Games are slated to start next January. He said not having practices has been alright so far this semester. “And what I think helped going into this season was that last year … the coronavirus started, so if the virus all of a sudden started in August or September, that would’ve been crazy, but since I had time to put into perspective how big the virus is, I’ve been able to put things in perspective and not worry about things I can’t control,” Hagstrom shared.
A positive part of being on the Winona State University (WSU) campus is seeing when fellow students abide by protocols related to COVID-19, such as wearing a mask and social distancing, sophomore communication studies major Hannah Harper shared. Clubs meeting virtually is also a positive part of being on campus, she stated.
She has stayed connected with friends via social media, seeing them on campus and meeting with them while social distancing outdoors or at places such as a coffee shop.
The various clubs of which she is a part are meeting online as well for the most part, she shared. One group of which she is a member meets outdoors, where they can practice social distancing.
She said that when she goes off campus, she goes to the grocery store or an outdoor park, and she wears a mask anywhere she goes off campus. She added that she tries not to go out of her apartment a great deal.
Senior mass communication journalism major Hannah Hippensteel has not been on campus much due to quarantining at the beginning of the semester, the university’s self-imposed quarantine period and her classes being mostly online, she explained. She has not needed to go into Winona often either, she said. “Especially as a senior, I’m trying not to be negative, because it could be worse,” Hippensteel said. “I could not be in Winona. So just having the opportunity, despite them being presented in a different form, is something I’m grateful for.”
Hagstrom has classes in-person and online. Some of his online classes are held on Zoom, and others are pre-recorded lectures. He said he has to balance the different delivery methods, but he enjoys the variety.
He had to quarantine during the first two weeks of classes. He said he is a people person who enjoys being around others, and quarantining was a bit challenging.
While quarantining, he was not able to attend his two in-person classes. For one of the classes, his professor allowed him to attend the course over Zoom, and for the other course, his professor met with him via Zoom after class to help him stay on top of the course material.
Krull’s classes are mostly in-person. One of his classes is discussion-based. As part of the course, the members of the class are currently meeting outside on one weekday. For another course, he and his fellow students watch films outside class so they do not have to sit together for an extended period of time.
He noted that a positive aspect of his courses is how they can shift to an online format. When one of his professors had to go out of town, for instance, the professor moved class online for the day instead of canceling it, Krull explained.
Shephard’s classes are all in-person, which has been beneficial as his courses are discussion- based, he said. He shared that having conversations in-person during class this semester differs greatly from having discussions in online classes last semester, and the biggest difference is being able to tell when classmates wish to talk and when they are engaged in the conversation. “When you’re online trying to have a discussion with 30 people, you can’t tell when someone wants to talk,” Shepard noted. “There’s a certain vibe that comes in learning when people get excited about topics. People go on long, excited conversations, and the energy in the room is high. You can’t get that online.”
Archer has classes in-person for the most part. She said she has appreciated being able to participate in small-group discussions and get a better sense of classmates’ facial expressions as they discuss their writing or read a story during her one online class.
A more challenging aspect of classes this semester has arisen in a discussion-based class that is meeting in-person. For this class, not being able to sit in a circle while maintaining social distancing has led to conversation not flowing as naturally as usual, she said.
Harper has online and hybrid classes, as well as an in-person class. Online classes have included some more interactive elements, such as an online annotation tool that allows classmates to see one another’s comments on a document, she said. More challenging aspects of online classes are feeling as if they include more work than in-person classes, she said, and keeping a balance between the different online platforms that are utilized for a virtual class.
Hippensteel’s classes are mostly online, or they include a few hybrid elements. The efforts of professors and those who work in campus departments such as counseling services to make the semester a positive experience are valuable, Hippensteel said. Open communication is being stressed, she said, so students feel comfortable speaking up about the aspects of courses and being on campus that are going well and those that could benefit from improvement.
She is taking a documentary film course, and navigating when to do interviews in-person and how to film them has been a challenge, she shared. A course including a roundtable and presentations is tricky to have held over Zoom instead of in-person, she added.
Second-year medical laboratory technician student at Minnesota State College Southeast (MSC Southeast) Mark Wagner said wearing personal protective equipment is nothing new this semester. Labs not being in-person after the pandemic hit was difficult, he said, and he missed gaining hands-on experience.
He said he is highly enjoying having the opportunity to complete labs in-person again this fall. “I love being back in the lab, actually doing what I’m learning in a book,” Wagner noted. “It just cements it more for me, because you can learn all about chemical principles and how cells do this, that and the other thing, but until you see it in a lab, for me, it’s just pictures in a book.”
Instructors are also facing changes to their courses. Medical Laboratory Technician Program Director Carol Cantlon’s lectures are online for the most part, and her students come to campus for labs. “Prior to this [the pandemic], all our students would interact together and work with each other as they’re doing these laboratory sessions, kind of like you would in a normal work setting,” Cantlon said. “Now, we have them in designated groups of no more than four and … we’re planning on them sticking with that group throughout the semester.”
SMU Department of Business and Communication Associate Professor Dean Beckman is teaching in-person and online classes. For his in-person classes, he is minimizing the number of handouts given to students and keeping in mind that it is more difficult to complete group projects at this time. In his online classes, his students are taking part in many small-group discussions through breakout rooms on Zoom. “I think the key is every class has learning objectives, and those don’t really change based on the format they’re taught,” Beckman shared. “The tactics may change, but you always have to go back to the objectives.”
He noted that he is being “more mindful” about checking in with students individually on how they are doing and how they are managing the course they are taking with him, from the material covered in the class to its format.
Some students are not only getting used to pandemic-related changes at their universities, but also experiencing the shifts happening in K-12 education while they complete their practical experiences with teaching and counseling in local public schools.
SMU senior elementary education major Hallie Schmeling is student teaching in a third-grade classroom at a local elementary school. The school’s classes are meeting in-person five days a week. Students may opt into distance learning at any time.
None of Schmeling’s students are in distance learning currently. All teachers are planning for distance learning in case the school has to switch to that learning model, she shared.
Assessing what students already know from the previous academic year and going back to the information they do not know is a key part of lesson planning now, Schmeling said, as some material may not have been covered as rigorously last spring as it is in a usual school year. “Things that might have been missed, we might have to prioritize a little more this year,” Schmeling noted.
She said that though she can feel a level of stress in the building over the potential risk of exposure to coronavirus, she can also feel some gratitude about meeting in-person. “The kids, you can definitely see their anxiousness,” Schmeling noted. “They’re kind of cooped up more” with recess and gym being their main opportunities to be out of their classroom during the school day.
WSU graduate student Laura Jensen is working with seventh through 12th graders at a local high school while completing her school counseling practicum as part of her efforts to earn her master’s degree in school counseling.
The counseling office has been strangely quiet with some students coming to the building once every three days and others learning fully through distance learning, she shared. Scheduling appointments has been tricky, she added. “It’s weird seeing the students not being able to interact with each other in the ways that we’re used to,” she noted.
Apart from COVID-19, students still have concerns about matters such as college applications, she stated. “I kind of take solace in that,” she said. “It’s not as crazy as I thought it’d be. It’s nice knowing those students still have that sense of normalcy.”
WSU graduate student Tony Yang is serving fifth through eighth grade students at a local middle school while finishing a school counseling practicum as part of his work to earn his master’s degree in school counseling. He has been able to meet with students one-on-one and through Zoom. With the school being in a hybrid learning model and students attending class in-person every other day, scheduling appointments has been a bit difficult, he shared.