I expected to spend my senior year rocking my Tiger blue around campus. Instead, I’ve spent almost every moment of it trapped behind a computer screen. Day in and day out, I stare at my laptop for hours at a time, hopping from class to class over Zoom. Sometimes the courses are lively. More often than not, they’re long and quiet, with my peers’ cameras and mics turned off. For the past four months, this has been my education and my life.
I talked with Khala Hoyle, a junior advertising major. She said learning remotely has been tough on her, too.
“I feel like I'm isolated from everyone,” Hoyle said. “It's kind of depressing actually.”
Not everybody feels the same way, though. Becca Irby, a senior, said that this whole semester has actually “worked wonders” for her studies, and that she’s less stressed out now than in previous semesters.
“I just felt like I had a lot more time for everything,” she said. “I didn't have to worry about commuting to campus. I didn't have to worry about when I was going to study and when I was going to take tests and everything like that.”
So that’s pretty much how the upperclassmen see this. But we’ve known how college is supposed to go.
For freshmen, this is a whole new ballgame—one without peanuts or cracker jacks.
DanE Henderson, said her first semester of college was a total let down.
“I just honestly feel like I kind of wasted my money when it comes to, really, the whole overall experience,” she said. Because you're not just paying for your classes. You’re paying for the feeling that you're growing up, and I feel like I kind have been robbed.”
Adding to this frustration: she’s been living on campus this whole time—stuck in her dorm room taking remote classes. She said she doesn’t feel any connections being made with her peers or her instructors.
“It just kind of crushes your spirits almost,” Henderson said. “You feel as though nobody's watching you or really listening to you because everybody's in their own worlds.”
Of course, out in the real world, there was still that whole coronavirus thing.
That became a real problem for another freshman, Andrew Heady. His dad, an essential worker, brought it home and it spread through the family. Nothing severe. But he says his professors were very understanding.
“All of them were totally fine with me missing some days or, you know, missing an entire week,” Heady said.
And why wouldn’t professors understand? They’ve been isolated from their friends, too. Now imagine trying to connect with scores of students through a computer screen.
My advisor, Dr. Matthew Haught, told me that it’s just not the same as being there in person.
“It's just easier when you make that interaction in the hallway or outside of class,” he said.
After a semester of remote teaching, Dr. Haught said he’s been “fundamentally changed.” And so has higher education itself. In some ways, for the better.
"The pandemic forced higher education to wake up and not teach like the medieval university and really embrace some of these online and free and robust tools that really make the student experience more accessible, more attainable, and better,” Haught said.
And so today, Nov. 24, 2020, ends the second full semester rocked by COVID-19, and I am looking forward to a much needed winter break. As a senior, I still have one more semester to go.
One good thing is that I, at least, know what to expect for the spring. Still, when those degrees are finally handed out, it would sure be nice to have all the hype—caps, gowns, and a march through the FedExForum with my name roaring through the loudspeakers for my friends and family to hear.
Caleb Suggs is an intern with WKNO-FM and the University of Memphis' Institute for Public Service Reporting.