Cornellians had their first day of online classes on April 6, transitioning to classes held online from their homes.

Courtesy of Jeremy Scheck

Cornellians had their first day of online classes on April 6, transitioning to classes held online from their homes.

April 6, 2020

‘It’s Just Not the Same’: Students on Their Virtual First Day Jitters

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Trading in Goldwin Smith auditoriums for childhood bedrooms and classmates for family members, Cornellians sat down Monday for their second first day of classes for the semester — this time, battling Wi-Fi issues and background noise.

Online classes were long awaited after a three-week extended spring break to accommodate changing conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic — some students were nervous about the constant changes and eager to start back up.

“I definitely woke up a bit late,” said Stephanie Mark ’20. “I woke up five minutes before my class was supposed to start. But luckily because it’s just in my room, I just logged on — and changed my virtual background to hide the mess of my bedroom.”

Classes varied from pre-recorded lectures to live Zoom seminars and Slack-based discussions, as professors adjusted their syllabi to a virtual version.

Mark is an information science major and is taking her classes from her Ithaca apartment. Her Korean class Monday morning worked “better than expected,” as in-person partner activities were replaced with randomized “break-out rooms” through Zoom.

What she’s more worried about is her software engineering class, which centers on a group project for a client.

“Before, we would meet in-person with our client every week,” Mark said. “And when you code with other people, [it’s] usually with one laptop. Now, I’m not totally sure how that will work.”

Some professors have paid attention to the different circumstances of students, now scattered across the country and world.

Samantha Luevanos ’21, who’s at home in Los Angeles, said all her early morning classes had pre-recorded lectures or non-mandatory live sessions — she was glad that her 9 a.m. classes didn’t turn into 6 a.m. ones.

But others have added more work to the online versions of their classes while they adjust to a new normal.

Deja Canty ’20 said one professor added extra discussion posts to make up for participation or attendance grades, and Samantha Feliz ’22 said another added a large group project to replace a prelim.

“It’s hard to focus and to find a place to study,” Feliz said about the class circumstances. “I have to be sitting in my room all day to get some privacy, it’s hard to find motivation.”

“It’s really hard to stay engaged,” Canty said about her pre-recorded lecture for a fiber chemistry course.

“I don’t know,” she continued, “it didn’t really feel like class today.”