Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Students mask up as they walk around campus, but many of them aren't heading into classrooms this fall.

September 11, 2020

Students Adapt to Zoom Classes During a Hybrid Semester

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With the second week of classes coming to a close, Cornell students have mixed feelings about the start of the hybrid semester.

Many students find themselves sitting across from their computer screens on Zoom, rather than attending in-person classes.

Clara Bollinger ’24, an industrial and labor relations student, is taking classes from Ithaca and said she finds it difficult to stay productive during online classes.

“When the class isn’t quite as engaging, it’s a little bit harder to pay attention or to stay motivated,” Bollinger said. “But for the most part, I think professors have been doing a good job having the notes up, sharing their screens or just providing interesting lecture content during the class so that it’s more engaging.”

Despite currently taking all of her classes online, except for one optional in-person discussion she hasn’t yet attended, Bollinger said she’s content with Cornell’s decision to have both online and in-person classes.

“Honestly, it’s been so fun, I’ve been loving it,” Bollinger said. “I’m so glad that [Cornell] really [was] adamant about having us here. And it’s nice that [students] also have the option, like if a student doesn’t feel comfortable coming here, then they can stay home.”

Other students have been struggling to adapt to online class from across the globe.

Ashley Chang ’22, a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is studying in South Korea taking two live online classes and three asynchronous classes. Otherwise, she would have to wake up at 3 a.m. to take all of her classes live.

Though she no longer has to get up early to walk to her classes, Chang is usually up late into the night, staring at a computer screen. Some of her classes start as late as 11 p.m. in Korea.

“Online learning in general, it’s pretty hard to stay focused for 50 minutes when you’re just in your room and [trying to] not be distracted,” Chang said.

Chang added that even though she prefers physical textbooks, shipping them to Korea has been a challenge. She has resorted to e-books for this semester.

On top of Chang’s textbook challenges, the time difference has also strained her transition to all-online learning.

“I feel like professors have been pretty understanding of the time difference and all that, so it’s not as bad, but I always have to be cautious of like, ‘Oh, what time is it in the states? What time is my deadline?’” Chang said.

Because of the time difference, she hasn’t been able to attend her discussion sections. Chang said she feels online class is depriving her of the same quality of in-class discussions.

Concerned about attendance, Chang emailed her TA about how she will receive a participation grade if she is not able to attend her discussion sections and is still waiting to hear back about their decision by next week.

“I miss seeing people face-to-face and actually having that interaction,” Chang said. “I feel like it’s pretty hard to have that engaging discussion if you’ve never seen the professor or all the people before.”

Taking classes from Ithaca, Dyson student Aidan Forbes ’22 has faced similar issues with concentration. Forbes said he finds focusing a challenge, now that he’s no longer sitting in a classroom.

“It is much harder to pay attention in an online course,” Forbes said. “Once the video’s off and there’s no professor watching, it’s extremely hard to pay attention to the material.”

Forbes also spoke of his “painfully awkward” experience in a breakout room.

“We just kind of stared at each other for the first 30 seconds until somebody awkwardly asked, ‘What are we supposed to be doing?’” Forbes said.

Forbes also thought that handling academic integrity would be difficult for professors this semester.

“Unfortunately, I think [the professors] need to expect the worst from students and be able to adapt to the situation and try to do their best, whether that’s in-person exams or changing their assignments a little, or timing their assignments even, to make sure that students aren’t cheating,” Forbes said.

Although he is taking all his classes online, Forbes also expected there to be more-in person classes.

“I was really surprised going through the course roster looking to see that the vast majority of classes are online,” Forbes said. He is currently enrolled in four online courses and one hybrid course, which meets once a week in-person. But Forbes said he hasn’t attended the class in-person — he is still able to take the hybrid class through Zoom.

“It was an early morning class, so I decided to stay home and sleep in and not have to walk 20 minutes in the morning,” Forbes said.  “And because Cornell had gotten a yellow alert at that time, that was a very okay thing to do.”

But for Kristan Nail ’23, as a new transfer student in the College of Arts and Sciences, taking all online classes from Ithaca feels worth it. Especially as a transfer student, Nail wanted to take advantage of the years she is living on-campus before she moves off-campus in her junior or senior year.

Though Nail is currently taking all of her classes online, she said online learning comes with some positives. Unlike having lectures in a large hall or classroom, Nail said she enjoys seeing all her classmates on the screen at the same time, as long as they turned on their video.

“I like that between students, I can actually see what people look like, and I get to recognize their names more,” Nail said. “Even if it’s only a limited view of what the school is, I really just wanted to in some way, shape or form meet people.”