It was the scene every high school senior looked forward to: commencement, a new beginning. It induced a conglomeration of anxiety and joy, restlessness and contentment. It would be the time when we met those who would be friends and classmates for the next four years. Yet, in the span of a few months, those plans shifted rapidly, some memories vanishing forever, never receiving the chance to be achieved. The novel coronavirus, COVID-19 upended the entire opening and continuation of the fall 2020 semester for countless college freshmen.
In what would have otherwise been days of excitement and social activities, orientations across campuses had been moved online. While class schedules swayed between in-person and online, with some colleges opting entirely for virtual learning. I had imagined, to some extent, the plethora of emotions that would be coursing through me as I forced myself out of my comfort zone and discovered a new campus to call home and new people to make friends. I would have been excited—but stressed—thrilled to explore everything my university had to offer while remaining anxious about being on time and at the right place for a class. Rather, I found myself staring onto a computer screen, questioning instead if my microphone was turned off, or why my camera had decided not to work for the day, wondering how the rest of the semester would pass by online.
More than two weeks in, I have learned there are few obstacles too immense to surpass if only you are willing to learn. The setting has changed, I am no longer in a classroom, and my dining room has been converted into a study. There will be no late-night study groups in the residence halls, no football games or club meetings. Remote learning has expanded my viewpoint on what it truly means to go to school, to learn.
Our environment influences us, but it does not define us. Of course, online classes do not allow for every aspect of college life to be explored, but there are instances where we can allow for some idea of normality to enter. Instead of a precarious Spanish oration in front of everyone, practice takes place with nervous faces looming behind cameras. Instead of in-person celebrations, now there are Zoom Happy Birthday’s.
Virtual classes are not the ideal situation, but they can be made into one. It is our attitude, not the problem, that can either impede or allow for progress. With staying at home, I eliminated a daily, hour-long commute. I now have the opportunity to use that time more effectively, whether exercising, studying, or just spending more time with family. Technology skills expand, as we learn to navigate virtual meetings, using various types of software for science labs or other subjects, and even adapting to become faster at keyboard typing. But the most significant skill developed thus far has been problem-solving. By working out everything from tech issues to figuring out discussion boards, to multitasking while in a distractive environment—patience and tenacity are being cultivated daily. These are the kinds of skills employers everywhere seek, and the resilience that life requires.
From an academic perspective, it is feasible to be successful as a virtual student with a few simple steps to keep in mind. First, reach out to your professors; emailing and office hours are key to effective communication. Second, identify the resources available to you. For instance, many universities are offering virtual writing labs and tutoring options. Make yourself familiar with the academic support provided and utilize these services if necessary. Third, identify ways in which some aspects of learning have become more accommodating to your style and preferences. Instead of Socratic Circles (a form on learning via insight through dialogue), discussion boards offer a written style of collaboration. Perhaps public speaking seemed unappealing and writing allowed for better articulation of your ideas, now you have that opportunity available to you—use it. Consider the added benefits that virtual learning provides to you academically. Lastly, understand the expectations set forth by professors, and know that this is a new step for everyone. Empathy is the key to success, not just in academics, but also in life.
Furthermore, in consideration of the social limitations of virtual learning, it is crucial to recognize they do exist. Many universities offer numerous options to participate in activities and clubs virtually, some also providing virtual work-study positions and online counseling sessions. The important step is to reach out. Form study groups with other online students or seek out activities that may be constructed especially for online students. Taking the initiative is key.
It is easy to get lost thinking of what could have been, but the imperative question remains not “What if?” but, It is; what can I make of it? Remote learning is a struggle, it is a fight that very much resembles a long walk uphill… through the mud. And feeling socially isolated can be overwhelming at times; it is crucial to set goals and remember you are not alone. There are others out there, they may have different journeys, across varying campuses and stages of life, but you are all moving towards the same destination: success.