by Mary Lakhan
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, many schools, businesses and government offices worldwide have been forced to close. St. Francis College, like other colleges around the country, has suspended all face-to face academic instruction, moving all classes online until further notice.
This decision was implemented immediately after spring break on March 18, 2020. Since then, students and professors have been adapting to this reality, navigating through challenges and even finding some surprising upsides to the experience.
“I think there is no chance we would be meeting in person right now. That would be extremely dangerous for everybody, and I think by moving online we provide some semblance of continuity and structure for everybody,” said Dr. Roberta Michel, professor of music of the Western world.
Dr. Michel has been teaching at St. Francis College for close to six years. Although she has had some training and preparation for online classes, she has never taught an online class until now.
“It’s been a very mixed bag. The actual technology of it is not difficult, it’s the seeing how to navigate and make it useful that seems to be the bigger question,” she said. “But it’s definitely more work I think for the professors and students.”
In an email April 2, Dr. Jennifer Lancaster, Vice President for Academic Affairs, wrote that professors are learning what works and what they need to do to further adapt. They also asked that students give them a chance.
Based on observation, freshman Okemba Coutain said, “They are doing really well. They are willing to learn because you know, not everyone is good with technology. They’re really making an effort to make Zoom work.”
Behrouz Tabrizi, an economics professor who has been teaching at St. Francis College for 23 of his 40-year career, said some students aren’t mentally prepared for online classes.
Coutain, who is currently taking six courses, moved from having none online to having all his courses online. He described his situation as being scary and believes that his productivity level has dropped as compared to his performance at the beginning of the semester.
“It’s been really challenging because due to the situation, I feel kind of withdrawn, I feel kind of depressed to be able to do this work right now, it’s hard,” Coutain said. “I try to pray a lot because that helps me to get through this, but mentally, I am a mess right now.”
Dr. Michel had mixed thoughts on students’ performance. “Some students are really blossoming under the system and I think they’re working really well, and I’ve had a few students who have dropped by the wayside,” she said.
She acknowledged the fact that some students have challenging situations, and some may not have the necessary resources, but she said that she still tries to reach out.
Professors across the college are making accommodations and working with students to help them succeed. Before, professor Tabrizi’s office would only be open to students on certain days. Now, it is always open to his students. “The amazing part of being online is professors are sitting home, students are sitting home, you can meet anytime,” he said.
Freshman Tehilla Seuraj said that professors “have been reasonable. They are saying reach out if there are any problems or reach out if you can’t turn in an assignment on time.”
To provide more flexibility to students with their studies, St. Francis College instituted a new Pass/No Credit (P/NC) policy. The optional policy does not excuse students from the required work in their courses. However, it allows students to replace their grade on their transcript with a “P” if they achieve a letter grade of D or higher, or an “NC” if they fail to meet the learning outcomes of the course. Neither the “P” nor “NC” will affect the student’s GPA. Students still have the option to receive letter grades for their courses if they do not want to choose the P/NC option.
Both Dr. Michel and Professor Tabrizi like the idea of the P/NC policy. “I think it is very fair, it is an excellent decision,” said Professor Tabrizi. “School really taking care of its students. Some colleges put it in place for every student, it is not fair. In our college, the final decision — we leave it to you.”
Although some students are grateful for this policy, some students don’t plan to use it. “I thought it was a good idea until I actually saw what the policy was about,” Seuraj said. “If they were giving you a passing grade then yeah, I would’ve agreed with it. But when they said that the passing grade is a ‘P,’ I mean, a ‘P,’ what is a ‘P’? From what I saw, I didn’t like it.”
St. Francis College is trying its best to make this transition work for both students and members of staff. “I really hope we could get back to school one day. I miss my friends, I miss my school, I miss my life,” said Coutain.