Welcome Back! (Well, Not Really): The Return to Distance Learning at York Leaves Mixed Reactions

What distance learning may look like for many York students this semester | Image via flickr @University of the Fraser Valley

By Asar John

Aug. 26 marked not only the first day of school at York College, but also the first day  ever of a full semester of online classes, with the exception of some that require labs.

York College President Berenecea Johnson-Eanes, announced on Jul. 29 that York would return to classes virtually this semester except for those lab classes that require in-person instruction and five percent of courses in a hybrid setting. Some of these classes include Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Clinical Lab Sciences and more. 

Eanes encouraged students to use their voices when it comes to getting access to resources they need when something isn’t working for them. 

“It will be very helpful for students to understand that we are removed from COVID crisis to COVID maintenance,” said Johnson-Eanes, referring to the difference in preparation for online classes compared to the sudden jump to them this past spring. “I think students have to be nimble, energetic, the faculty have to be engaging, and staff have to be helpful. Everybody has to play a part in making sure that we thrive and survive through COVID-19.”

Although students experienced virtual learning for the second half of the Spring semester, views about distance learning still remain mixed.

York senior and Accounting major Joseph Diaz called the switch to distance learning a “blessing in disguise,” believing school would be more convenient since he wouldn’t have to commute the hour and 20 minutes to school and then back home to Washington Heights in Manhattan. However, this all changed for Diaz once there was a pause on class instruction, followed by the recalibration period. 

“After flip-flopping between a break, CUNY setting a return date, and then another break—instant loss of motivation,” said Diaz. 

Diaz said he had gained a good momentum pertaining to school work in the first two months of the spring semester, but that all came to a literal pause once distance learning began.

“Well, I managed not to drown, and so I thought I had adapted,” said Diaz. “I have not.” 

Some say professors are also to blame for the burden of online classes. 

“My classes would be okay if professors gave us more time to prepare,” said senior, Marimar Juste, a Health Science major. “What I mean by ‘prepare’ as in a sense to read the syllabus and adjust to online learning once again.”

Juste added that many professors ended up assigning the same due date for  some assignments, and that can be difficult to keep up with.

“I hope these professors do remember some of us still have jobs and have others who are at home who may need help adjusting to the online format again,” said Juste, referring to younger siblings she has at home. 

“I know for Spring 2020 we all made a sudden switch, and I became okay with taking the courses online,” said York senior Bibi Alli, a Psychology major. “However, once again, my view has changed for certain classes, whereby the professor just gives assignments and no lectures.” 

Alli feels that she is just turning the assignments in and not really learning anything, but also sees some professors being considerate of their students’ time. 

“I do believe some professors are trying their best, but I also feel some are just assigning work and due dates,” said Alli. 

Instructors such as Fine Arts Professor Caroline Nelson is one of those professors who are putting in the effort to make sure their students are moving through the semester with ease. Nelson holds both asynchronous and synchronous classes, and has pre-recorded video tutorials for students to view on their own time or during class to practice. Not only does Nelson believe that time management is key to balancing school life, but also communication between students and professors.  

“At the beginning of each class, I send out a welcome email, asking students to let me know if there’s any sort of work-life situation that they’re in to just let me know,” said Nelson. “I’m trying to navigate what seems to be good per person, and I do weekly check-ins with everybody.” 

As each professor has their own way of mediating their classes, World Language Professor Vincenzo Selleri has many ways in which he can do so. 

“I’m trying to reduce the workload and figure out ways to convey the same core content without assigning unnecessary work,” said Selleri. “However, sometimes professors panic, and if they are not prepared to teach online, what they try to do is replace their physical presence with a ton of essays, readings, and other writing material.” 

While it was difficult for Selleri to prepare for the fall semester, he was still able to find ways to create an engaging learning environment for students. This includes recording video lectures, discovering new teaching material, and many more ways of trying to accommodate students’ educations through either synchronous or asynchronous classes.

Other instructors, including Computer Technology Professor Ryan Seslow, have a few words for their colleagues who are not considerate of students’ personal issues.  

“Those professors need to re-think how they are teaching and who their students are,” said Seslow. “We are in the middle of a pandemic, and we have all been impacted in a variety of ways.” 

Seslow said that the college community should be caring for each other during this time instead of creating more difficulty or acting as we did pre-pandemic. 

“We need to place ourselves in the shoes of others and understand that emotional and mental health plays a huge role in how we move forward in things like education, wellness, and how we re-enter the world where there are still a lot of things we do not know about the virus,” said Seslow. 

In response to the pandemic, some students are trying to mediate the stress of the return to online learning by using their social media platforms. A 2020 graduate of the Nursing Program at York and returning pre-med student Kemoy Francis, is a Youtuber who decided to film a video offering tips on tactics students could employ to have a successful semester. The video titled TIPS to Increase Your Chances of Success Throughout the Semester provides students with five tips on what Francis suggests is best. These range from getting into the mindset of school to creating a support group among other students. 

“Starting out as a freshman, I had a lot of struggles,” said Francis, who emigrated to the United States from Jamaica when he first started at York. “It’s that new environment of not knowing and trying to figure it out yourself. So I said hey, I went through it already, I know the struggles—why don’t I make a video of the things I’ve been doing throughout the semesters with trial and error and basically show others that they don’t have to be alone.”

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