Campus News

Changes at SMCC

Pictured above is an SMCC Student’s home learning environment. Photo by Anthony Gendron.

Some SMCC students are grateful for the changes COVID-19 has brought to the local community college, others dislike them. The experience for both staff and students at SMCC has changed over the course of the pandemic because COVID-19 has changed how classes are conducted and how social interactions are carried out. 

Changes to the school experience are clear. These changes, however, aren’t stopping most students from continuing their education in the “new normal.” “In the beginning, it was strange to switch to online lectures and things like that, but [COVID-19] hasn’t drastically impacted my school experience,” said Taylor Hack, 22. 

Zoom lectures are one of the most obvious and initially unavoidable changes to schooling that staff and students have had to face. “Students had been put into hybrid and online … for the first … year and a half of COVID and that was the only option available,” recalled Ann Boyce, an SMCC Professor. “…now I believe the college is trying to transition back into face-to-face classes because the realization is that that’s a much better way of learning than all online.”

This is certainly true in some cases, but not all. “It really depends on the person,” said Garreth Dyer, an SMCC pre-engineering student. Some students enjoy online learning while others struggle with it.

Students and teachers have seen several drawbacks from zoom learning such as “zoom bombers” and “zoom zombies” as Boyce has noted, but there have been benefits from zoom learning as well. The effectiveness of zoom instruction is dependent on both the instructor and the learners, but it often comes down to the preferences of the individual when considering if the format is effective.

“I think that now with zoom as an option it has made college more accessible,” said Eric Bidwell, a Liberal Studies student with a focus in arts.  “The internet is something that is accessible to pretty much everyone and now that college is online … it is available to pretty much everyone,” he speculated. 

The introduction of zoom with COVID has allowed for a new style of online learning to arise. This style of learning with virtual lectures and online work can be especially helpful for students who need an interactive component but are unable to attend live lectures on campus. Now that students have this additional learning opportunity, college is potentially more feasible for more people. 

This new learning format is also helpful for students who struggle with social anxiety. When asked about his experience with social anxiety as an all-online student, Bidwell said he experienced less anxiety when attending classes via zoom than he would if he was attending in person. 

Students who attend any classes virtually may also enjoy the more flexible schedule they can provide. Depending on the class instructor, online classes can offer much more freedom of schedule. 

While it can be beneficial for students to have more control over their schedule with zoom learning, it can also be difficult to manage. 

“Students who are working close to full-time [or] have a number of family obligations, the ability to self-schedule can be a tremendous benefit. However, for folks who have difficulty creating time management … apportioning their time [in] an online class is very difficult,” stated Boyce.

Time management isn’t the only problem students face with the new learning style that COVID has introduced. Many students struggle to stay engaged with digital lessons and materials. “Personally I struggle with zoom when the lecture goes on for 2+ hours. I think it’s effective for some people but especially hard for those with ADD/ADHD,” Said Hack.

Another difficulty many students face is finding a place where they can focus. While students have freedom in where they attend their digital classes, not all students have access to a good learning environment. Those sharing a room with roommates for example may have trouble focusing on online classes because of their environment. 

While the classroom environment can bolster an academic atmosphere that keeps students engaged, this does not always translate to zoom. This is part of why Zoom classes often suffer from reduced participation from students. 

Boyce confirms that she has seen less participation in zooms and while she says that some instructors are able to maintain an active zoom class, many other faculty have also reported seeing less participation in zoom instruction than in-person instruction. 

Zoom isn’t the only component of the new learning style that COVID has brought to SMCC. The website Brightspace is also an important part of this new way of learning. Like Zoom, Brigthspace has drawbacks and benefits that some students may not have encountered if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. 

Brightspace is a site that allows instructors to make class materials, lecture recordings, and other resources available around the clock. This can be incredibly helpful for both staff and students. Staff who utilize the site can avoid having to photocopy papers and students who access the site can access materials they need whenever they need them. These are merely a few examples of the benefits of the site.

All full-time staff members are required to have a Brightspace page for their classes, but not all instructors use the site effectively. Many students have reported instructor errors such as incorrect due dates, and instructors have reported difficulties such as grading issues. 

COVID-19 forced staff and students to make use of the site in the time when only online instruction was available, so the benefits and the difficulties of the site were emphasized and could not be avoided. 

Now that SMCC has allowed students and faculty to return to campus, some have been able to return to an experience similar to pre-COVID, but many others are still taking on the challenges and benefits of Zoom and Brightspace, be it out of necessity or choice. 

Many of the changes to SMCC brought on by COVID have digital implications but not all of them. The on campus environment has changed too. 

The South Portland campus has been more quiet since COVID. There are less students and faculty members around, and they have been interacting less. 

Due to the pandemic, staff and students haven’t been mingling as much. SMCC has gone through periods of limited congregation because of the virus. One such example was in the first few weeks of the 2022 spring semester when students weren’t even allowed to visit other students’ dorms as Dyer commented. The regulated amount of contact has led to most events being held online as well with limited participation. 

Students have been allowed to come back to campus, but in times when interaction is limited like when students aren’t even allowed to sit down in the cafe to eat, it has been a quite different experience. 

While the campus may have less community activity and staff and students are challenged by new learning methods, there have been some positive impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic like increased accessibility to classes. Hopefully once the pandemic ends the community will come back into full swing and the beneficial changes will stick around.

Categories: Campus News

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