Jessica A. Johnson
This is a column by Athens native Jessica Johnson, a lecturer at the Lima campus of The Ohio State University. She is a regular contributor to the Athens Banner-Herald.
Just over two years from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of this academic year is the closest to past normality for many colleges and universities.
The four freshman English composition classes I teach at Ohio State’s Lima campus in the fall are in person. With the Zoom lull in e-learning still a hangover for many of my students, I had to gently remind them that our lesson format is not hybrid; however, I can tell they are thrilled not to spend their entire semester listening to lectures on their computer screens.
One of the first articles I assigned my classes to read focuses on the challenges an incoming student still faces from the bastion of COVID in 2020. The article is titled “I haven’t really Learned Anything: COVID Graduates Face College” and was written by Associated Press education reporter Collin Binkley.
Binkley interviews Angel Hope, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin who felt unprepared for the rigors of college classes. Binkley shares that a third of Angel’s high school years were spent online, leading to frustration that often resulted in homework[ed] aside.” Angel’s teachers relaxed their standards and passed students for simply submitting assignments, leading Angel to think “school was optional.” Most of my students went through the same learning disturbances than Angel, and here are some of their responses:
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“The last years of my high school experience were very similar to Angel’s. The pandemic hit when I was a freshman in high school. It was around March of the year we were sent home due to increasing health issues. Classes became more forgiving overall and it was easy to maintain a good average. The teachers at my school tried to help the students in the subjects they taught. My school had Zoom lessons that were easy to overlook. I feel like I’m behind, not because of the pandemic, but because I took a year off before starting college this year.
“Well, I can relate almost completely to Angel. My situation for my second year was pretty much the same. I also missed some Zoom classes and missed a lot of homework due dates, and I still I was able to pass classes. The teachers were so forgiving, so I was able to turn in assignments, overdue assignments, as long as I emailed them to let them know I had done it.
“I can definitely relate to Angel’s story in this article. There were many changes at school when COVID hit. We went from multiple class assignments each day, then when we went online, that all changed. We often had homework assigned at the start of the week that would be due at the end. The problem is, however, that you could do them all in one day and possibly have the rest of the week off. There were also job shadowing opportunities that my grade lost due to COVID that all previous grades did. In the end, I think a lot of students enjoyed less work, but I think we ended up losing some discipline that was crucial in preparing us for college. Our missions have become much easier and scoring much more forgiving. »
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It was evident to me from these comments and many more that my students are ready to return to a structured classroom with detailed feedback and grading from their college professors.
I reflected on these feelings in my classes when I read a global study recently published in “The Conversation” by University of Toronto PhD students Blake Lee-Whiting and Thomas Bergeron. Lee-Whiting and Bergeron surveyed 4,812 students in 78 countries and found that the traditional pre-COVID “college experience” is what they desire.
The social interaction of college clubs as well as programs to promote student health and well-being were among the top issues that respondents felt were essential to returning to campus in person. Along with my colleagues in Lima, I encouraged students to attend university events and get involved in extracurricular activities.
One of the issues that Lee-Whiting and Bergeron mentioned that really stuck with me is “safe social feedback.” I will never again take the opportunity to teach face to face for granted, and I am grateful to God for His blessings that keep me healthy and safe to do what I love.