After over a year of online classes, App State students are approaching the mid-way point of the in-person fall semester. For many, this is their first year of face-to-face instruction, and most seniors haven’t experienced a full academic year of in-person classes since their freshman year.
Gone are the days of joining Zoom meetings from bed, switching the camera off and tuning out. The return to almost pre-pandemic conditions has taught students and faculty to appreciate the little things in life.
“When I saw how excited the students were to be back in person, that made me excited because we all missed the conversations and interactions with one another,” said Jean Dehart, professor of communication studies.
Learning via Zoom can be a challenge for many students. Many are welcoming the return to a physical classroom setting as an opportunity to take classes more seriously and understand the material better.
“Last year all of my classes were online, and I’m glad to be back in person this semester. I feel more like a student with in-person classes,” said senior Michael Gautier. “I feel more energized and more successful as a student.”
An interview survey study conducted by the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that 71% of the 195 students interviewed reported increased stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Furthermore, 89% indicated an increased difficulty in concentrating, 86% reported disruptive sleeping patterns and 82% said they’ve had increased concerns about academic performance, all as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
A full class schedule on Zoom also meant a full day of staring at a computer screen, which enabled procrastination and prevented proper sleep, Gautier said.
For sophomore physics major Ian Hull, completing the necessary labs for his major in person is much easier, a task that was immensely challenging during the previous online year.
“It’s definitely been an improvement learning in person for STEM majors because labs are done hands-on. Labs on Zoom were horrible,” Hull said.
The return to a psychical classroom has allowed some students to socialize more with their peers. Meeting classmates and professors face-to-face can make it easier to connect compared to the isolation of sitting behind a computer screen.
Eva Petersheim is starting her third year at App State, studying ecology and chemistry. For Petersheim, the transition to in-person classes has allowed her to make more friends and “scratch the social itch,” which she said helps keep her sane.
“We get the chance to form real connections with our peers and instructors,” Petersheim said. “I was never one to speak up in class, but I guess the lack of face-to-face conversations has made me much more eager to give out my own opinions.”
While some students are grateful to socialize with their friends and interact with their professors again, being back in person comes with its own set of difficulties.
“It’s very challenging teaching in person after being online for over a year. I think Zoom caused a lot of students and faculty to become mentally checked out, and I think some people are still in that mindset,” said Kristin Ivey, senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology.
For some, the ongoing pandemic calls into question whether it’s safe to return to classrooms. As of Sept. 27, 94% of employees and 58% of students are vaccinated against COVID-19. App State has 25 active cases as of Sept. 27.
“It’s challenging because of COVID and not knowing how healthy your students are and if they’ve been exposed or not,” Ivey said. “I have a lot of anxiety, and I’m checking my email daily to see if my students are ill.”
In her Sept. 3 message to the university, Chancellor Everts said the university has no plans to pivot to an online format.
“Recovering from this crazy time is going to require a group effort, which includes respecting one another’s health and safety,” Petersheim said.