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LEARNING AT A DISTANCE: UWEC Students Adapt to Online-Only Education

in-person classes won’t be back for Blugolds until fall at the earliest

Olivia Kroner

The Davies Center on the UW-Eau Claire Campus. (Photo by UWEC)
The Davies Center on the UW-Eau Claire Campus. (Photo by UWEC)

When UW-Eau Claire’s online classes started on April 6, I was ready to start learning again.

I spent all three weeks of my extended spring break watching my mom figure out how to make online learning accessible for fifth-graders, listening to my dad take endless phone calls from his home office, and seeing my sister create a desk space in the basement where she would watch video lecture after video lecture. And after they watched me sit around for three weeks, not having to engage in any work or assignments, they were ready for me to start learning again, too.

Knowing that my UWEC education would be finished from the desk in my childhood bedroom where my only classmates were the stuffed animals stowed away on my shelves was a little disappointing. Still, between transitioning to learning from home and coming to terms with the end of my in-person college career, I consider myself lucky to be an English major.

Knowing that my UWEC education would be finished from the desk in my childhood bedroom where my only classmates were the stuffed animals stowed away on my shelves was a little disappointing.

There are challenges for everyone in this shift to online learning, yet I can take solace in the fact that I’m not missing out on time spent in a lab or a rehearsal room that can only be found at my university. Doing English homework online is kind of like being in an online book club; all of the information I need is still being conveyed as thoroughly as it would be in person.

But no matter what your major, Blugolds of all disciplines are missing out on one critical piece of our education: interaction with our peers and professors. And according to them, they miss it, too.

MISSING THE ‘GIVE AND TAKE’

Allyson Loomis, an English professor and my creative writing professor, recognizes the “give-and-take” that occurs between students and teachers, and cites this as one of the challenges she is facing during the transition.

“Ideally, in the classroom, I'm being led by student interest and inquiry, just as much as I am leading a discussion,” Loomis said. “As a classroom teacher I'm always busy reading student expression and body language. Are students getting bored? Which individuals seem left out of the conversation? How can I bring them into the fold?”

Blake Westerlund, the professor behind my British literature class, has to agree with Loomis’ point, but does not deny the convenience of the online classroom.
“I think online teaching allows ​all ​students to participate in the day’s discussions, and provides educators with some unique and creative approaches to connect with their students,” Westerlund said. Given the choice between face-to-face learning or online learning, Westerlund added, “I cannot really favor one over the other.”

Online classes are considered a norm nowadays. There are a variety of courses offered over summer and winter sessions, and I’ve taken a class in each of these terms before. ​However, a 300-level literature class does not require the same kind of interaction that those in other majors might need in order to succeed.

“Dance Appreciation is dancing Bob Fosse in the kitchen, while my modern dance class involves rolling around on the floor of my bedroom,” said comprehensive theater major Michelle Sheahan.

Michelle Sheahan is a comprehensive theater major with a dance certificate who said that the switch to online classes has been especially interesting for her. “(My classmates and I) have gone from being together in the light lab programming to a virtual light lab,” Sheahan said. “Dance Appreciation is dancing Bob Fosse in the kitchen, while my modern dance class involves rolling around on the floor of my bedroom.”

Sheahan commented that her professors have done “an incredible job” in moving their curricula online, but that doesn’t make up for how much she misses out on learning from her peers in a traditional class.

“What they did to recreate a painting through lighting that I might never have thought of, creating partner dances together, (and) seeing what others are able to come up with while we improvise to the music” are all things that cannot be replicated as easily in an online format, she said.

STUDENT TEACHERS FACE CHALLENGES

Interaction is also important for another subset of UWEC students: student teachers. As an education major, Kayleigh Pook is understanding and appreciative of the online format but is facing the same challenge as most students.

“I feel like I'm losing out on some key experiences regarding classroom management because I am not up there teaching a lesson and interacting with my students in person,” she said. Pook has switched her student teaching placement three times since the news broke that UWEC would be closed; one switch was predetermined from her first placement to her second, and then she was moved to a different teacher within the second school.

“It has been an interesting time for student teachers as a whole,” Pook said. “I really appreciate the prompt communication from the university as well as the hard work of the cooperating teachers in accommodating and working with student teachers during this difficult time.”

Professors and teachers have been receiving a lot of the well-deserved praise for handling the transition so well, but Mary Hoffman, a UWEC communications and journalism professor who also serves as Director of Academic Planning and Assessment, commends students for their adaptability as well. Hoffman has had her students post videos in their online discussions, spurring them to comment on each other’s videos to create a discussion. This, along with other electronic methods of teaching, are as taxing on the students who must navigate them as they are on the professors who have to create them.

“Students are doing a good job adapting, too. It is a strong team effort,” said UWEC professor Mary Hoffman.

“Students are doing a good job adapting, too,” said Hoffman. “It is a strong team effort.”

UWEC hopes to have students back on campus for the fall semester. Should that not happen like we expect it to, Blugolds will still be in good hands with their online curriculum, but there will always be something missing from the experience.
“Online teaching feels like a slice of dried apple in comparison to a fresh one, picked from the tree on a cool afternoon in mid-September,” said Loomis, the English professor. “The dried apple is not devoid of nutrients, but it's not as filling and it's not as good.”

Hopefully, by the time apple season rolls around, the UWEC campus will be full of fresh faces once more.


Olivia Kroner is a soon-to-graduate English major at UW-Eau Claire and a Volume One editorial intern.