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WVU students, staff discuss pandemic struggles

by Olivia Murray

 West Virginia University transitioned to all-online courses for the end of  its fall 2020 semester.

Students are now on fall recess. 

As they prepared to either return home for the Thanksgiving holiday or enjoy a three-day break in Morgantown, many   expressed exhaustion toward online learning and trying to maintain organizational skills while living during a global pandemic. 

Bailee Teter, a freshman child development and family studies major, said  her first semester at WVU worsened the anxiety she previously had about being a freshman.

Teter said  the transition from in-person to online classes during a COVID-19 spike in September was particularly difficult for her.

 “I got very lost and confused about what was supposed to be happening during that period of time,” Teter said.

Teter also said she didn’t think  her professors were   as communicative with students as they should have been, especially during such an uncertain and constantly evolving situation.

“I feel that [with] WVU being such a big university, [it] definitely could have planned things out better for student success,” Teter said. 

Dakota Bevino, a senior studying communication sciences and disorders, said  taking 18 credit hours completely online   made him “pretty miserable.”

Bevino said that while WVU tried to do as much as it could to keep students’ best interests in mind, upperclassmen at the university seem to have “bore the brunt of the crisis.” Bevino said 8 a.m. classes every day of the week, frequent exams, minimal social interaction and the graduate school application process   exacerbated preexisting depression and anxiety.

“This has been far from the ideal college experience and at this point I don’t look forward to it anymore. I just want to do the work and get out,” Bevino said.

Allen Potter, a sophomore studying industrial engineering with a minor in economics, and Isaiah Perry, a senior finance major, both expressed concerns about  academic performance during the fall semester.

“I’m not really a guy who complains a lot, but I will say that one thing that was a challenge was staying motivated to continue to do my work … when there’s no teacher in front of you. There’s no personal accountability, there’s nobody really watching you,” Perry said. 

Perry said the majority of his classes are held asynchronously — a type of online learning in which students do  class work at their own pace without scheduled class meetings. Perry found it difficult to maintain a schedule and keep track of due dates for assignments without the structure of a synchronous course. 

“This pandemic has created some very stressful moments for me. Academically, I have performed notably worse than last semester,” Potter said. 

Potter attributed his academic struggles this semester to the difficulty of his engineering and economics classes, a factor which was heightened as a result of the  online format. 

The semester presented challenges for professors at WVU, as well.

Emily Hughes Corio, a teaching associate professor in audio and video storytelling and special topical reporting at WVU’s Reed College of Media, said  there were instances in which she had to alter her online courses  or assignments to help her students. 

“I did hear from some students who told me they were overwhelmed. It was earlier in the semester, around midterms. I was also hearing from colleagues who told me that some of their students were struggling,” Corio said.

As a result, Corio opted to adjust class schedules and assignments to attempt to ease the workload for her students.

Just like many students, Corio said this semester has been more challenging for her than previous semesters, and pointed to a switch from in-person to online classes during the summer and frequent adjustments to her online fall  classes as evidence.

WVU Dean of Students Corey Farris and Associate Provost for undergraduate education Evan Widders addressed the challenging nature of the fall semester. Both administrators showed appreciation for the students regarding how they handled the pandemic, with Farris pointing out the 85% mask-wearing rate at the university.

Farris and Widders  reassures the student body that the university is listening to concerns of its students, and wants to make the learning experience at WVU the best it can be. 

“For everybody that I’m working with, obviously we’ve learned a ton, because this is the first time any of us are living through a pandemic,” Farris said of WVU administration. Farris said administration is  working to foster learning and social environments that are safe for students and still in accordance with CDC and state health guidelines. 

Widders said  he sympathizes with students who are particularly concerned with the lack of spring break in the  spring 2021 semester. Widders said currently the spring semester must have a minimum number of days to be considered a full semester by educational guidelines, and  adding a spring break to the semester would mean students staying later in May to make up for any breaks. The university’s apprehension toward including a spring break  stems from the possibility of students traveling out of the area, state or country, necessitating widespread COVID-19 testing upon return that would further delay classes from resuming after spring break.

“We do understand that students are naturally concerned, and so are faculty, absolutely. They’re already being overworked, the transition to online is difficult, the semester was harder than they expected — all those things. I think those are all true, I do. I wish there wasn’t COVID-19,” Widders said. 

Widders said  future semesters are subject to change as the pandemic necessitates. He said  the university intends to add more in-person classes in  spring 2021, though it depends on the number of in-person classes that can be held while following social distancing guidelines. 

“The good news is that right now we’re talking about hopefully planning for a regular fall semester [in 2021], but spring is a challenge for sure, for everybody —  students, administrators, and faculty,” Widders said.

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