By James Molnar
As the college rings in another semester of remote instruction, students scramble to keep up with the demands of an increasingly apocalyptic world. Still swathed in the opaque clouds of acrid smoke now billowing throughout the pacific northwest, and bound by the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, many have not left their homes in weeks. Instead, they spend their time pouring over their laptops and phones, tuning into the vast online learning network that has enabled the greatest shift in mass education since the introduction of public schooling.
While the technological breakthroughs of Zoom have allowed a rapid transition to an economical, high speed learning model, many students report that this has come with the loss of experiences that were once central to their education.
Chief among these is frequent socialization with other students and professors. As the distinguished topologist and Saint Mary’s math professor Kathy Porter points out, the days of both of students and instructors, are largely sapped of the small pleasures of close-up personal interaction that were once commonplace. This has implications not only for the social dynamics of the college but also for the scholastic ones.
Adriana Centeno-Rivas, a junior at Saint Mary’s, makes the point that many students now feel increasingly unmotivated owing to a lack of rewarding feedback throughout the day. She also describes a widespread feeling of disconnection: “You aren’t surrounded by people. You’re staring at them through the screen.”
In addition, many students do not feel that they are receiving the same level of guidance from their professors as before. "You have to do everything for yourself,” says Radha Rai, a freshman at Saint Mary’s. Removed physically from their students, sometimes by as much as a couple of continents, instructors have found it difficult to provide the same level of counseling and feedback. Students, therefore, are required to exhibit an unusual level of independence while carrying out their academic obligations. As Ms. Rai puts it, “There’s nobody to watch you and keep you in check,” unlike in the classroom where “you know you need to stay on top of it.”
This move toward a more self-driven educational model is not without its proponents. A Saint Mary’s community member, who wishes to remain unnamed, asserts that “The Zoom model allows many of my students to achieve at levels above and beyond what they would otherwise have done.” She continues: “With the heightened independence of remote learning – coupled with the sheer quantity of hours that it frees up – they are able to devote their energies to academics in a way that is truly unmatched.”
This effect appears to be particularly pronounced in students who are highly driven and motivated to begin with. One such student is Leilani Love, a second-year business student at Saint Mary’s. "It helps me work on my time management,” she remarks, as well “to be more productive and feel like I have more control over my schedule.”
Despite living through a historical period wrought with catastrophic events that would have been considered impossible mere months ago, many students have demonstrated an unprecedented resilience in swiftly adapting to their new environment. Even so, it will take a concerted collective effort on the part of our community to ensure that the perilous features of distance learning do not destroy the tried and true educational model of our school that has been finely honed over the last few centuries.
Melanie Moyer '22,