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College Students' Perspectives During COVID-19

by Rachel Hicks | April 13, 2020
College Students' Perspectives During COVID-19

College Students' Perspectives During COVID-19
Click here to view the webinar.

College Students' Perspectives During COVID-19

Recently, Signal Vine hosted a panel to discuss college students' perspectives during COVID-19. The panel, which was moderated by Jesse Boeding, Doctoral Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, consisted of students from Winona State University, Virginia Tech, Oberlin College, Mercer County Community College, The College of Saint Benedict, and Sussex County Community College. They discussed their thoughts and perspectives through this uncertain time. The webinar can be viewed here.

Below, we've included a summary of the questions and answers posed throughout the webinar.

Jesse Boeding (moderator): Madeline, let’s start with you. Your major is very IT-oriented. Have you ever taken a class online before? (5:27)

Madeline (Junior, Business IT Major at Virginia Tech):

Yeah, I have. I’ve taken elective classes online, but this is my first time taking my major classes online.

Jesse: Tell me about what the experience moving to remote learning has been like. (5:50)

Madeline:

I would say it’s been a very different experience depending on the class. My professors are taking very different approaches. For example, one professor hosts class on Zoom at the time we’d usually have it in-person, and he’s really communicative. On the other hand, I have a different professor whom I’ve heard from maybe once since the move online. We don’t have online lectures or anything for that class. Two very different approaches.

Jesse: Rachel, had you ever taken online classes before? (6:30)

Rachel (Pre-PT Major at Sussex County Community College):

I have not taken any classes online before.

Jesse: As a pre-PT student, I imagine you are taking a lot of science classes. How has the transition online been for you? (6:40)

Rachel:

It was rough at first. It’s definitely a huge adjustment. My biology II course is now online, and the adjustment period was different. In our normal labs, we would have organisms in front of us, dissections, group work, etc. Now, we’re kind of stripped of that. Now that we’re online, we’re all by ourselves. We now watch videos of dissections instead of doing them ourselves, which has been an adjustment.

Jesse: Has your institution implemented any new rules for academic integrity given the move online? (7:50)

Rachel:

Not exactly. My professors have definitely reiterated the plagiarism and cheating rules. There’s nothing really new, just a reiteration of the rules that already exist.

Jesse: Jake, as a graduating Senior at Winona State, tell me about your experience. (8:24)

Jake (Senior, Marketing Major at Winona State University):

I’ve taken online classes before. A lot of classes that I’ve taken online have felt easier. I have been studying abroad during my last semester of school in Florence, Italy. I was sent home on March 6, so all our classes were transitioned online. There was maybe a week period when we didn’t have anything to work on so our professors could move classes to the online environment. It’s different because a lot of our students come from all around the country, and you can’t really have a live Zoom class when we’re all in different time zones. Most of our classes are just lectures via slideshows or videos that are pre-recorded.

Jesse: Nina, you’re also dealing with some time zone differences. Any thoughts? (10:36)

Nina (Sophomore, Politics Major at Oberlin College):

Before all this happened, I’d taken one online class before - a German class in high school. It’s been quite challenging, but I’m lucky in terms of the fact that my classes are asynchronous. I do have to wake up for a class at 7:30 AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which is not great, but doable.  

Jesse: Joao, you’re an international student who moved to New Jersey to go to school. Tell me about the move online for you. (11:37)

Joao (Freshman, Pre-MBA Major at Mercer County Community College):

I come from Brazil, and I hadn’t taken any classes online. I think it's interesting how it changed the relationship between students and professors. We’re helping professors use some technology tools for online classes. Teaching feels more reciprocal and of mutual benefit. Some professors ask for feedback and advice about what worked well and what could be improved.

Jesse: Josie, I know that you intentionally chose an institution with small classes. Tell me about the experience of moving online. (13:23)

Josie (Junior, English Major at The College of Saint Benedict):

I had never taken online classes, and as you said, I chose the College of Saint Benedict because it’s a smaller private school with smaller classes where professors can be more personal with students. I’ve learned that professors are becoming more adaptive to this new way of teaching online. A lot of my classes are Zoom discussions or Canvas discussions. But instructors really want feedback and they have a lot more flexibility in what they’re expecting because they know there are some technical limitations, which is really nice.

I remember when we were preparing to move off-campus, the professors were saying, “We’re going to have some trial runs.” One of my professors sent an email asking if students had technology barriers and asked for students’ time zones. Zoom discussions are recorded so students can go back and rewatch lectures. Those recordings have been really helpful in preparing for a test or writing essays.

Jesse: Institutions are making a lot of changes to accommodate the online learning environment. What is the one that has caught your attention? (16:14)

Joao:

I’d say they’re offering more online tutoring. So, we don’t just depend on faculty for assistance. They’re trying to bring more options to help us with research and completing our coursework.

Madeline:

I would say that IT support has been super helpful. I’ve been able to call them at 8 or 9 PM to get help, especially when it came down to the types of software I needed to do my classwork. One of the best things is I’ve been able to download Pulse Secure, which is a VPN that allows me to log on to Virginia Tech’s wifi to get my work done.

Nina:

For me, it’s mostly been the behavior of my professors. They’ve all been so accommodating and completely understand that we’re going through a pandemic right now.

Jesse: Josie, a lot of schools are changing their grading tactics. What’s your take on it? (18:13)

Josie:

For me, I still want a good grade. Saint Ben waived its pass/fail policy. It used to be if the class wasn’t in your major/minor, you could take it pass/fail, but it doesn’t matter anymore under the circumstances. You can take any class pass/fail for this semester. It’s a nice safety - I really appreciate it - and if I were taking a biology class where I had a lab, I would really utilize that. But I’m still motivated by a grade, and I still want a good grade.

Jesse: All of these changes happening - how are you thinking about the investment in your education? (19:18)

Madeline:

There are people on financial aid who will be affected by this, but at the same time, a lot of college students will sign contracts to rent on or off-campus. We’re basically wasting money at this point since we’re back home. It’s a huge part of how the coronavirus has impacted finances. People who have stayed on campus have received a refund due to the circumstances.

Rachel:

Scholarships have been impacted. With a pass/fail arrangement, it impacts applying for scholarships. With everyone either passing or failing, it takes away from the competitiveness of earning scholarships.

Jesse: When your institutions made the decisions to change the grade type, did they include information on how scholarships/athletic eligibility/etc.? (21:53)

Rachel:

No one has said anything yet, but I’m sure they will.

Jesse: Libraries are such a cornerstone to the college experience. How has that changed? (22:42)

Nina:

I definitely miss the library, not just because it’s a great place to get academic resources, but it’s also a great place to study. I had some trouble accessing some ebooks for research, so I reached out to the library staff, who were super helpful.

Madeline:

I would say that I spent the majority of my time out of class at the library because the majority of my classes took group collaboration. For me, I needed my school’s wifi to log on to certain services, like my Visual Basics coding classes. Having access to the school’s VPN has been fantastic. If I hadn’t been able to have that access to build a virtual machine to have a Microsoft or Windows operating system on my Mac, I wouldn’t be able to access my coding resources. I’d have had to purchase another computer to do my coursework for one class. I’m taking 5 classes right now, and 4 out of the 5 require group work. We utilize Zoom, Slack, etc. to work together. It’s been challenging because we used to spend hours in the library, and now all of that is happening over the phone and remotely.

Jesse: Can you tell us a bit about how you’re working with advising? (26:37)

Rachel:

I’m part of the Educational Opportunity Fund at Sussex Community College, so we have our own advisors. They’re staying in contact with us through Facebook group chat, phone calls, Zoom, etc. We get a lot of emails from them. Usually, at the end of the week, they’ll send some words of encouragement. They’re super supportive and it’s great to still have them even though we’re not physically on campus.

Joao:

I was planning on taking summer classes. I had to find information about taking summer classes, so I went to my advisor, who was helpful. She showed me which classes I should take. She just called me a few days ago saying that the registration for summer classes is open. She’s been super encouraging throughout.

Jesse: Were there any resources your institution had that you haven’t really used until now? (29:12)

Madeline:

I spent a lot of time at the gym, and since I can’t really go anymore, Virginia Tech made it possible to still work out by making available 300 les mills classes for workouts. I've really enjoyed them.

Jake:

I started working at the Student Life Center for the VP of Student Life. I found a lot of new resources that I didn’t know about before I started working there. One thing that stood out to me was a lot of student workers can go online and still complete some of their work and get paid for it.

Jesse: With all of this upheaval and moving online, is this creating more anxiety for you? What are your thoughts on how your campuses are supporting you and communicating with you about staying healthy during this time? (31:16)

Rachel:

High anxiety during this time for sure. My advisors are incredible. I expressed to them that I was overwhelmed and they calmed me down and reassured me that I could do this. 

Josie:

Campus counselors have made sure that there’s still access to the counseling sessions. They’re also doing group counseling sessions, which is like group therapy, which is really nice. I’ve also had professors list helpful tips of ways to stay active and motivated during this quarantine, which was great as well.

Jesse: What are you thinking in terms of summer internships/career planning? (33:54)

Nina:

It’s been pretty hard for me to stay motivated to apply for things this summer simply because no one knows what the summer and fall will look like. As time has gone on, I think I’m going to look more into Handshake and try to connect with alumni to find opportunities.

Jake:

For me, I’ve started looking for jobs. I’ve also been doing some job searching the past few months. A lot of companies are reaching out, just saying we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, and as a result we’re pausing the hiring process and will pick up when we have a better feel of what’s going on. It’s really a pause right now, but I’m still looking and applying as much as I can to do my part. 

Madeline:

I had training today from my job in career services. They’re still technically open, so instead of coming in 1:1 to speak to an advisor, students can now schedule a Zoom meeting with them, which is pretty cool. The business school has sent an email to seniors without a full-time position lined up to send in their resume. They plan to take all the resumes, compile them, and send them out to employers that are still recruiting new employees.

Josie:

I’m still searching for summer internships. It’s really hard right now. I’d been looking at jobs in Minneapolis but a lot of them have closed down due to COVID-19.

Jesse: Has the pandemic made you think differently about your career choice/next steps? (39:58)

Rachel:

I work in a physical therapy clinic, and I adore it, so I’m not thinking any differently about it. I do consider nursing some days, but physical therapy is definitely still my target.

Nina:

I’m in politics, but I’m starting to think about epidemiology. I’m not sure that I’ve fully thought it out yet. I definitely enjoy my major and the career opportunities that come with it.

Jesse: Let’s talk about the summer...and maybe the fall. There’s just so much unknown right now. Have you thought about taking summer classes or delaying employment? (41:10)

Jake:

I thought about going into a master’s program earlier on, but I’m going to pass on it at this moment. I want to get my master’s at some point in my life, but right now I’m still set on trying to find a job. 

Rachel:

For DPT school, you need at least 80 hours for some programs. I’m using my job as my hours, and I plan on volunteering at other locations to learn more about the field. It’s been helpful working there while going to school.

Jesse: Based on what you know now, are you hesitant about going back to campus? (43:58)

Josie:

I would definitely prefer to be on campus. I like studying on campus and the environment. The tuition is also very expensive, and regular online classes are a lot cheaper, so I wouldn’t want to spend the same amount of tuition to just have online classes next semester when I could be taking cheaper online classes. It is really difficult for me if they do go online next semester because I’m a junior, so I can’t really transfer to a different school at this point to finish my degree. I don’t know if I would just take other classes elsewhere, but it’s just up in the air right now.

Madeline:

Yesterday, my university president announced they’re going to make a decision by June on whether we’re coming back in the fall. I would definitely say that one of the things I’m concerned about is the public health aspect on campus. I know how fast diseases spread around campus. It’s very concerning.

Nina:

I’d definitely echo what Madeline was saying. I’d love to go back to campus if it’s safe, but if it’s not, we should definitely stay off campus. It does seem like even somewhat small decisions that institution leaders are making concerning public health are being scrutinized closer than ever. I think that will probably continue in the fall as well unless things change drastically soon.

Jesse: How has this impacted your use of time? (48:57)

Josie:

I’m finding it really hard to stay motivated. I’ve found myself having to set up reminders on my phone so I wouldn’t forget Zoom meetings. I’m trying to keep the repetition I had at school. I haven’t studied at home since I was in high school, so I associate being home with relaxing versus being in learning mode at college. I’m having to retrain myself to be motivated at my house.

Jake:

As a senior, it’s weird. You only have so much time in the day to do one or two things, so that’s kind of weird. I’m definitely a structured person and have to have that to get through the day, but that’s gone since this pandemic happened. I’m trying to set aside time each day to devote to my studies.

Rachel:

Before the pandemic, I worked part-time and went to school full-time. Now, I’m home from school, so all my classes are online. It was a huge adjustment at first because it was easier to procrastinate. Now, I use a planner to write down what I have to do each day and cross things off, which really helps me stay motivated.

Joao:

I had to change my time management schedule. Since we moved to online classes, I don’t have to wake up early to get on the bus. I have more time to do assignments, but it’s also easier to procrastinate and put things off. It’s very hard to stay motivated.

Jesse: What’s one piece of advice that you’d share with college administrators? (53:43)

Josie:

I would say to put students first and try to reduce the cost or get tuition reimbursed. I’m getting some money refunded back, but I think there needs to be more knowledge for out-of-state students and how to accommodate their needs. I really like the idea of surveying and emailing students to find out their preferences and how they can be supportive. I received a call from a faculty member the other day who asked if I needed any help or had any concerns, which really helped me.

Nina:

Administrators need to see the disparities between students and understand that students who thrive on campus may not be able to thrive online for various reasons. I feel like a lot of professors have been great at doing outreach, but hearing from administrators would be great too. We students also feel empathetic toward them as well - we understand this is challenging for everyone and we greatly appreciate the efforts institutional staff are making right now to help students persevere.

Jesse: You’re also doing work-study remotely. Has that been challenging?

Nina:

Two of my jobs, I’m still able to do remotely. They’ve been rather slow. But I haven’t been able to work as much as I did during the semester. One of my other jobs, I’m unable to do remotely. I’m getting some of my food and dining bill refunded, which is definitely helpful.

Joao:

Be sure to communicate to transfer students what you’re looking for. International students may need financial support, and it would be great if we had additional financial aid funds. It’s helpful to receive information through email, Zoom, and texting. Student panels online would also be helpful.

Rachel:

I’d love more information on the transferability of credits. Many of my peers are looking to transfer, and some courses are preferred to be taken in person. I’d love more information on how all that will transfer. I’d like for information to be sent via email or through the mail from my destination school to tell me exactly what will transfer and what I need to know.

Madeline:

Keep the communication channels between students, faculty, and administration open, and be as transparent as possible. Also, I think this is hitting seniors the hardest. Schools should provide emotional support to seniors. For example, the UVA president wrote an honest open letter to seniors, which was fantastic. Finally, I think administrators should make sure seniors are celebrated, even if that celebration is virtual. I’d personally prefer to receive information via email and text message. Social media is also great.

Jake:

I agree that email is the best way to communicate with students, but there are just too many emails going out right now. The emails should be targeted and segmented so that the ones students receive apply to them.

View the College Students' Perspectives During COVID-19 Recording here. 

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