COVID-19 lockdowns began in March in the United States, which quickly affected schools and universities across the country into a transition of online education. The 2019-2020 spring semester was one of the first to complete remote learning due to the pandemic, and Mesa College had to make quick adjustments to ensure a smooth transition. Staff, faculty, and students faced a learning curve in regards to growing accustomed to online learning and all of its qualms. Although the current fall semester was planned with better preparation than the last, students continue to face related issues.
Going forward into the 2021 spring semester, Mesa is looking to improve in regards to its efficiency with online education and released a survey in which students and staff could provide input. 1,585 students and 175 staff members participated in the survey commissioned by the California Community College System, and its goal was to discover a definitive result of what challenges students have faced, and how Mesa staff and faculty could find a solution.
Students reported that the main obstacle they were facing was difficulty adapting to distance learning. This was credited to a variety of different issues such as difficulty concentrating on school, insufficient internet reliability, and a lack of technology, just to name a few.
Following that, they claimed disruptions to student finances were another issue as well. COVID-19 and quarantine orders have negatively affected student finances with the results listing that 53% of students reporting a decline in income. Although correlation does not equate to causation, it would only make sense that students who lacked wifi or a laptop before would find further difficulty in getting the supplies they need now.
Both staff and students faced common tech challenges, stating they experienced student or staff discomfort or unfamiliarity with required technology or software such as Canvas or Zoom.
Almost half of the students who participated said they prefer face-to-face learning with a quote from a student explaining, “I just prefer face-to-face human interaction because I learn better that way.” Granted, it is not the college’s fault for not being able to provide on-campus classes, however, students claimed that their online classes or services were not up to standard. 27% of students claimed difficulty completing courses not typically offered online such as welding, clinicals, and science labs.
A quote from a student voiced their disappointment in the virtual tutoring center and lack thereof: “Each time I went to the tutoring center via Canvas no one was available so I eventually stopped trying.”
Clearly, there is work to be done with offering students better support throughout the rest of the semester and into spring. That said, staff members who participated listed similar troubles saying they too were struggling with adapting to distance learning, were affected financially by COVID-19, and were lacking the tools needed to work remotely.
The number one challenge listed for staff adapting to remote learning? A decrease in student engagement. On both sides, there are voiced feelings of isolation, with staff also mentioning an absence in a sense of community in online learning.
Staff also issued a similar complaint of not having the technology needed and spending their own money to purchase needed materials. One quote reads, “I had to purchase a new laptop, various adaptors, etc. I ended up spending several thousand dollars of my own money to be able to teach fully at home without access to my own campus office.” 68% of faculty requested a need for a laptop or desktop specifically with other needs being acquiring access to traditional office software, meeting applications, reliable and insufficient internet, and a copier or scanner.
Mesa has expectations to meet going into the spring semester and only time will tell if the many needs of students and staff will be met.