What We’ve Learned from Online Learning
Compiled by Emily Dalgleish, Opinions Editor
We have reached the end of six weeks of online classes in a semester that none of us could have anticipated. In the transition to remote learning, many of us have been pushed out of our comfort zones. But throughout this process, we’ve also learned more about ourselves, our communities, and the ways in which we learn. We’ve asked faculty members and students to reflect on this period of online instruction. Here is what they shared.
Dr. Ryan Kerney
Associate Professor of Biology
I have been amazed by my students’ ability to adapt to the new schedule, expectations, and logistics of on-line education. Multiple anonymous surveys have indicated that home life has been especially hard on some students, and I now have at least one student who is sick with COVID-19. Several have had difficulties within their community or even family related to the pandemic or lost employment. However, despite these obstacles, my students have been prepared and active course participants and have submitted excellent work on a range of largely independent projects. I believe this adaptability is exceptional and will become one of the defining features of the enigmatic “Generation Z.”
Lauren Cooke ‘23
Biochemistry- Molecular Biology Major, Neuroscience Minor
When I first heard that we would be switching to remote learning I was unsure of what this experience would be like. Luckily, I was reminded of why I chose Gettysburg through this period of online instruction. In this time filled with uncertainty, our professors promised that we would receive as many resources as they could provide. They asked for student feedback and were willing to adapt in order to give us the best possible experience. My professors continued to hold office hours and added extra class times in order to make sure that every student could succeed. We even continued our Women and Leadership program through the Eisenhower Institute, allowing us to continue our education beyond the physical classroom. Although switching to remote learning was not easy, our professors found creative solutions to ensure we received the best education possible without being on campus. As a community, Gettysburg was able to adapt to change—and not only in the classroom. The college’s efforts to live stream events through the CAB, continue extracurriculars, and provide resources through the Research Help Desk in the library allowed students to continue with as much normalcy as possible.
Kurtis Grey ‘21
Political Science and Public Policy Double Major
Remote learning has taught us a lot of things. Sure, we’ve been able to continue our studies. But what we’ve been able to learn during this time is so much greater than that. Personally, I have had a lot of what I believed about our community confirmed. I’ve seen and heard stories of students adapting to very unfavorable circumstances and still find great successes, both in their academics and when assisting their families and communities. I’ve seen the compassion and dedication of professors who are willing to learn new methods of teaching and help out students who are struggling to focus on academics in this new situation. I have gained a fresh perspective through remote learning. That perspective is that sometimes, academics or work cannot be your top priority— and that’s okay. Most importantly, I’ve also learned that, through everything, our community has remained strong, compassionate, hard-working, and connected. And that’s something I’m excited to experience in-person again.
Logan Grubb ‘21
Economics and Public Policy Double Major, Political Science and Peace and Justice Studies Minors
If you would’ve asked me just a few weeks ago if I ever thought I would be taking classes online for college I most certainly would’ve laughed at you. However, for just over a month now, I, like thousands of other college students, have been forced to transition to completely digital platforms. This semester used to be filled with club meetings, campus-wide events, shifts at work, and meals with friends. Seemingly overnight, my daily schedule became much more open. Of the seven classes this semester I was taking, which includes three ensembles, only one meets synchronously, with the rest being boiled down to a series of recorded lectures, readings, written responses, and the occasional voice recording submission. Needless to say, my world has been shaken. As a person who thrives on my daily interactions with friends, faculty, and administrators, I had had the carpet pulled out from under me. It’s amazing how something as simple as a smile and a wave while crossing campus can become so easily missed. I have to say that I have been so impressed with the continued investment and effort my professors have put in to ensure I still find meaning in the work we had left to complete. But even beyond that, I am grateful for the professors who have gone above and beyond to make sure I am doing well, not just as a student, but as a friend. These past few weeks have been some of the toughest of my collegiate career. Each day brings with it a new challenge and, frankly, a new set of emotions.. Yet some part of me has still managed to feel connected to our college community. I know that I, like so many others, welcome the return of any sense of normalcy and that these next few months still contain so much uncertainty. I also know, however, that I have a community of people who are there to support me on the good days. What’s most important is that they’re also there to support me on the bad days.
Dr. Scott Hancock
Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History
I suspect that what I’m getting from this experience isn’t particularly unique. I’m guessing I was probably somewhere in the middle of the learning curve—more familiar than some of my colleagues with using online tools, but definitely not as adept as many others. This past month, then, has made me a better teacher. I’ll use what I’ve learned so I can better meet the spectrum of all of your learning styles. I appreciate online learning more than I had before. But…one of the main reasons I came to Gettysburg College in 2001 was because I thought the kind of personal interaction and connection you get with students happens best in colleges like this. And I think it’s the best overall environment for working with each other to be better citizens, better thinkers, just plain better people. So, frankly, the remote learning environment isn’t the kind of environment I signed up for 19 years ago. A month of doing this has convinced me that the two-dimensional online learning world in no way can stand up to the four-dimensional learning experience of actually being together in person. And that’s an important lesson, because over the last several years in the United States, we’ve witnessed a steadily increasing assault on the value of higher education, and gradually lowering expectations about how we gain knowledge. And we’re living with the results of that trend: for example, this week we see people protesting for state governments to ‘open up’ without wearing masks, which people with medical and scientific knowledge tell us will help prevent you from spreading COVID-19 to other people. If you want to protest, fine. But wear a mask, dammit. Because not wearing one means either you don’t care about other people, or you’re basing your decision on rumor, accusation, and political ideology rather than truth, knowledge, facts, and critical thinking. Since its founding, the United States has lived with a tension between valuing pursuit of knowledge and being anti-intellectual skeptics; we now seem to be tilting wildly toward the latter, and once again that’s killing people. In sum, then, what have I learned over the last month? In a sense, not much new. But in addition to reinforcing the obvious need to make higher ed more affordable to more people, it’s clearer than ever that getting the best education you can, of whatever type and through whatever means, absofreakin’lutely matters. And I think the in-person, personal liberal arts education you can get at places like Gettysburg College is one of, if not the best, you can get. So I hope we can all see each other back on campus this fall.
Jack Lashendock ‘20
Political Science and International Affairs Double Major, History Minor and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Minor
As a senior who is about to graduate, the closure of the campus and a transition to online learning has been especially tough. And, as challenging as it may have been to say goodbye to our home away from home, navigating this unique period of online learning has had its own ups and downs. Above all, I am so grateful to the faculty and staff who have worked hard to ensure that students have been able to get the education we all expect at Gettysburg.
The remote nature of lectures, seminars, and labs certainly taught us the importance of maintaining frequent communication with professors and mentors. And a more distracting study environment has challenged many of us to maintain better systems of organization. But, I believe there is a more profound lesson to be learned from this pandemic.
It has been so reassuring to witness and experience the unity and connectivity of Gettysburgians. Even though we may be scattered across the country and around the globe, clubs are still meeting and planning events, roommates, suite-mates, and housemates have transitioned their social activities to Zoom, the College still hosts engaging events and speakers, and students continue to take an interest in their community. As the Vice President of the Student Senate, it is my privilege to conduct and oversee the election of the Student Senate and Class Officers each autumn for the incoming first-years and each spring for all class years returning in the fall. This election cycle was undoubtedly without precedent and I was worried about the negative impacts a scattered community would have on voter engagement. At the end of our campus-wide election contest, my concerns were unfounded; despite an electronic campaign season, voter turnout remained consistent with previous (non-pandemic stricken) years and the pool of candidates was the largest in recent memory. My strongest takeaway from this experience is simple: Gettysburgians are resilient and committed to our alma mater.
Dr. Mercedes Valmisa Oviedo
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
As a friend of mine said, the pedagogical experience is not cinematic, but theatrical. It cannot dispense with the presence of the bodies. Especially if one teaches interactively, allowing each performance/class to be shaped by the actions of the audience/students. It simply doesn’t translate well into a screen. Nevertheless, pedagogy is also about resilience, adaptability, and creativity, and this sudden, forced experience has considerably made those fundamental aspects shine in all of us, both educators and learners.
Dr. Dave Powell
Associate Professor of Education
One thing I learned is that online is no way to run a school. I understand why we did it, and I’m glad we did. Too many students were too close to getting their degrees, and there was too much time left in the semester to make canceling classes make sense. Our community did hold together for the most part but this is no way to build a community. The things that make Gettysburg special—close personal relationships with other people, challenging academics, and the power of being together in such a beautiful and inspiring place—are all much harder to realize online. It’s just no substitute. There may well be a place for online learning in colleges and universities but it can never replace the real thing—what happens in lecture halls and seminar rooms all over campus. That’s special, and I suspect that when we get it back we’ll be amazed by what we missed.
Katie Troy ‘21
Spanish and International Affairs Double Major, History Minor and Political Science Minor
When learning online, it can be really difficult to focus on my classes and remain committed to an organized schedule each day. My grades will likely be less strong than they would have been if I was studying on campus. I miss Gettysburg so much, and I worry about what my senior year will look like. Although I think that short-term isolation can sometimes improve self-awareness, this prolonged isolation has definitely made it more difficult for me to take care of my mental health. However, my most important takeaway from the online learning experience is that I have been reminded again of how lucky I am to have supportive family members, friends, professors, and advisors. I feel so grateful to have a home to live in, two parents to share meals and conversation with, a table to do my homework, and professors who are still dedicated to providing me with a strong liberal arts education. One of my professors implemented a weekly check-in, where students could explain in detail about how they were feeling and what they were struggling with. It was so comforting to be able to communicate my concerns to her, and she responded with helpful and genuinely caring advice. I think that is an honest example of the level of care that you receive from professors as a Gettysburg student. I have been extremely lucky to be in a supportive environment during this period of isolation, and I really hope that we will be able to be back on campus in the fall.
Ana Vashakmadze ‘22
The second part of spring break was very stressful, and full of making decisions without having enough information. But going back to school, even via Zoom, helped with reestablishing a little bit of normalcy. I was impressed by how quickly professors adjusted to this new reality. I think we all had an unspoken agreement that we had enough determination to make it work. We even learned new things that would not have been possible without our virtual school.
I am a music major, and at first it was terrifying for me to learn that I would not be able to practice with my friends or perform for an audience. With professors’ and students’ collaborative motivation, however, we succeeded. We created projects that we would not have had time for otherwise.
It is hard to talk about my growth since we are still in this virtual reality, but I think that this new normal helped me realize that I can adapt to change rapidly and find the positive aspects I need to keep growing. These changes have also helped me appreciate music’s influence on people’s daily routines, and have also highlighted my privilege as a musician to make people’s lives more positive in these times of uncertainty.
Dr. Chris Zappe
As Provost of Gettysburg College, I am inspired by and thankful for the extraordinary work that our faculty, students, and staff have performed to adapt to the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic during the Spring 2020 semester. During our spring break in March, our faculty and Educational Technology staff quickly began making preparations to adapt their courses to remote teaching and learning. Beginning on March 23, classes resumed and our academic community was challenged to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning under difficult personal circumstances for many of us. I am grateful for the work that our talented faculty and staff members have performed, including dedicated educators in Musselman Library, Office of Academic Advising, Johnson Center for Creative Teaching and Learning, Office of the Registrar, Civil War Institute, Eisenhower Institute, Gettysburg Review, Sunderman Conservatory, as well as my office.
Undoubtedly, as this semester comes to its conclusion in the coming week, we will begin to reflect upon the lessons learned during this remarkable period of time at Gettysburg College. While we all take some time to assess the work we have done this semester, I think it is important for all of us to remember that we all did our best during an unprecedented moment in history. In the end, our Gettysburg community is strong and enduring. Please know how proud I am of this community today and always.