Students and Faculty at York Connect Online throughout COVID-19 Shutdown

By Rashida Goodridge, Student Journalist

Students and faculty explain their experiences with Blackboard as they adjust to distance learning.

Arts & Entertainment Editor Asar John wouldn’t call “Paradora’s Box,” the student newspaper for York College, common or ordinary. He considers it essential to the campus community. The 19-year-old sophomore spends the majority of his free time Monday to Thursday contributing to the newspaper.

On Thursday, March 12, after the college had initially closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, John and the newspaper staff were still able to meet for a while on campus. The meeting's aim was to discuss plans for the next issue of the 52-year old student newspaper. But plans came to a halt when he received a notice from the President of the College that the school would be closed for the rest of the semester.

“[It] disrupted our process of doing [the] layout and getting the paper out in the physical form, and now [we] are just going to [have to do it] strictly online for the second issue, which is the final issue for the rest of the semester,” says John, who looks forward to his new position as Editor-in-Chief in the Fall. “I don’t get to see the people that I normally interact with in the newspaper [office] anymore because everybody is at home under quarantine.”

John is one of the many students at York, and other colleges, whose education and campus lives have come to a stop due to the coronavirus pandemic. CUNY and SUNY, and other universities, are closed until further notice. This shift to remote learning has put an end to college events in the interest of social distancing. The transition eliminates the social aspects of student life, which means no sports or even a graduation ceremony for the spring.

“I miss having the opportunity of interacting with my classmates and being a part of student government events,” says Melanie Mitchell, a graduating senior. “I was looking forward to attending more social events and senior discussion panels.”

Since remote learning became the semester’s learning model, it has caused some unwanted changes and struggles for York students. Remote learning places a bit more stress on students and their workload. Even simply trying to access Blackboard, a site for students and faculty to connect through assignments and lectures. It is sometimes difficult and labor intensive.

“I feel a bit stressed, but not because of the work," says Daniel Manso, a junior. "It’s [from] how horrible Blackboard is. [Remote learning] is more challenging, [when you] have to keep up with an assignments and [can’t] get that boost of reminders that you do in-person after each class.”

Some York students realize how much they used to depend on face-to-face communication with their professors. It gave them a sense of security when it came to assessing their progress in the class. But, with school shutdown, students are seeking alternative ways to communicate through different devices or websites. They are also looking for ways to connect with their professors and to take part in group work with classmates.

“I [dislike] Blackboard [because the site] fails to log you in several times, even when I tend to enter the right information,” says Manso. “Usually, I have a routine of knowing how it works and I have to try at least three times. [But], for students who aren’t tech savvy, they will not know this and [might] have to change their password [each] time.”

Melanie Mitchell mentions often seeking face-to-face meetings with professors before remote learning had begun.

“Life before remote learning was more interactive," she says. "If I were stressed about something involving class, I could talk to a professor or classmate about it. They would most likely understand versus being at home dealing with it on my own.”

It was also important for faculty members to learn techniques needed to teach through Blackboard.

“We very quickly assessed that faculty development was more needed,” says Dr. Greet Van Belle, director of Teaching, Learning, and Educational Technologies at York. “We organized right away, and it was [essential] getting faculty members to help us with the task. “We reached out to 10 faculty members, who volunteered and were trained by us."

In the week of intensive Blackboard training, faculty members became students all over again.

“In the course, we had these live support rooms where faculty can go and login to Blackboard," says Van Belle. "They would click on the link in the menu to join a live session staffed by our 10 faculty, and that was fantastic."

Even after the coronavirus is gone, Van Belle sees the advantage of faculty having mastered distance learning.

“I think it is very good that after this crisis a big percentage of [our] faculty members will be prepared to teach online and be familiar with the tools,” says Van Belle. “For instance, [on a] snow day or a flood or a storm, etc., everyone will be [ready] now. And just getting acquainted with [those] tools in Blackboard can also be beneficial to face-to-face teaching.”

The Center for Teaching, Learning, Educational Technologies is looking for students and faculty volunteers to be part of the advisory board. Their sole purpose would be to target problems and concerns not currently addressed by the Center.

“We have built [an] Issues with Technologies link into the default menu of all Blackboard courses,” says Van Belle. “By clicking on the link [below], students, who have any questions about technology [will] land in our Bb Online Helpdesk for students course. The CTLET had an on-campus walk-in with Blackboard help support. [However], when the campus closed we converted that pre-COVID-19 walk-in support into a virtual walk-in into the Bb online Helpdesk for Students course.”