How the coronavirus has affected learning at EKU

The coronavirus has forced Eastern Kentucky University to conduct many of its classes online through asynchronous, synchronous and web-blended formats, something that has affected all students on campus.

For some, learning virtually means having synchronous class meetings on specified days, as is the case for junior double major in Spanish and international affairs, Rachel Lehkamp. She has two classes fully online, both of which meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for 50 minutes, conducted via Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate.

“I learn better when I’m sitting in class listening and I feel like I haven’t learned as much,” said Lehkamp. “I’ve kind of been doing the bare minimum, which is not good, but it’s just easier on the psyche when you have six classes that you’re trying to juggle. You kind of pick and choose which ones are the most important.”

In addition to synchronous classes, some students also have web-blended classes, which conduct more than 50 percent of the class via online instruction and have occasional class meetings. 

Sophomore communication studies major, Jacob Beck stated that he had one web-blended class, which meets once a month in-person. The remainder of the class is conducted online. 

“Doing the Zoom stuff is distracting. It’s hard to pay attention because I live at home. It’s not like you’re in a dorm watching Zoom. There’s all sorts of stuff in a big house,” said Beck. “It’s just hard to focus.”

Some professors are also conducting their classes asynchronously, meaning they do not have designated meeting times. Instead, all classwork is pre-uploaded and students can complete the work at their preference. 

Sophomore anthropology major Makenzie Frontz’s classes were all moved to an online format. She is not currently on campus, instead working from her hometown in Ohio. 

“It has been a little difficult since some of the online classes don’t have meeting times. They meet asynchronously,” she said. “There are assignment dates, so you can go at your own pace, but I don’t know if I like that yet or not.” 

According to The College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College, EKU is one of over 3,000 colleges that has been forced to change their reopening plans due to the coronavirus and one of 681 institutions surveyed that are conducting classes “primarily in-person.”

EKU’s Fall/Spring Contingency Planning Task Force, which was formed in response to COVID-19 in early April of 2020, reported that 30 percent of classes for the fall 2020 semester are entirely online and six percent of classes are web-blended.

“What we’re hearing from students is they really want some kind of interaction even if it’s on Zoom. Now that’s for the more traditional-aged students,” said Sara Zeigler, co-chair of the Fall/Spring Contingency Planning Task Force. “For the students who are working, have children, have care-giving responsibilities, are a little older, they tend to have very different preferences.” 

This move to online formats is not only affecting students but essential tutoring services on campus such as the Student Success Center. 

The Student Success Center at EKU offers a wide variety of services such as tutoring, mentoring, workshops, drop-in-advising and study spaces. Prior to the pandemic, it conducted in-person meetings that allowed students to drop-in at their convenience to receive services.

For the Fall 2020 semester; however, the majority of its services are being conducted via appointments through online platforms such as Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate and Discord.

“Things changed a lot in March. We moved to fully appointment-based tutoring for the remainder of the spring, which we had never done before,” said Lara Vance, director of the Student Success Center. “We did not set appointments for tutoring because our students seemed to like the drop-in aspect more.”

The Student Success Center is still conducting in-person services this semester; however, all sessions are in one-on-one rather than group settings. The number of in-person sessions is also significantly lower than previous semesters due to COVID-19 guidelines.

In its 2017-2018 Academic Year Report, the Student Success Center had a total of 3,329 visits combined at both of its locations in the Crabbe Library and Whitlock building. One thousand, one hundred eighty-three of these visits were drop-in tutoring visits.

They are anticipating a significant change in numbers since the move to online appointments in March, which continued this fall.

“I am sure that our numbers will be lower this fall simply because of the appointments,” said Vance. “It’s just more difficult for students to drop in.”

The Noel Studio for Academic Creativity has also moved its consultations online for the fall 2020 semester. All consultations are being conducted via video/audio/chat platform WCOnline.

This shift to virtual learning has also had significant effects on students. 

“I think the biggest struggle for students, I’ve noticed, is a lack of self-discipline,” said Sarah Roberts, lead GURU at the Student Success Center. “They are struggling the most with time management skills and study strategies, because a lot of them have never had to rely completely on themselves.”

Students have also been facing challenges regarding their grades. 

“We are seeing students struggle a little more,” said Zeigler. “We’ve got more students who have had to go on academic recovery programs after this point in the semester.”

This move to online formats has affected colleges around the country, not only EKU. According to The College Crisis Initiative, 1,001 colleges and universities are conducting classes primarily online and 622 have hybrid courses.

There is no question that COVID-19 has changed the way students are learning, but students still have many avenues to turn to if they have been struggling. 

Students can schedule tutoring appointments here (https://successcenter.eku.edu/) at the Student Success Center and here (https://studio.eku.edu/) at the Noel Studio.

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