Remote Reflections: Learning in the Time of Corona

tags: higher education, technology, COVID-19

Sarah Shurts is professor of history at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey. She is the author of Resentment and the Right: French Intellectual Identity Reimagined, 1898–2000 (2017).


In early March, as news of the COVID-19 pandemic became the insistent theme of every news feed and conversation, Bergen Community College, like most other schools across the country, began the process of temporarily closing its doors. The suddenness of the decision left many educators and administrators scrambling for quick solutions that would allow classes to continue at a distance through the end of the semester. The haste with which the shift had to be made caused even veteran distance educators to, at times, forgo best practices in favor of providing something immediate for students.

Historians pointed triumphantly to the value of our discipline and inundated our students and colleagues with information about the Black Plague and the 1918 pandemic. But what might normally have been a timely way to involve students in history fell flat as more pressing concerns about daily life and coursework took precedence. Sometimes it is not a matter of making the past more engaging for students, it is a matter of engaging ourselves in the present lives of our students. To that end, I asked my students to share their struggles and their concerns about both their daily lives and their courses, since both would impact their ability to learn and succeed. What follows is a reflection on the experiences of Bergen students and their suggestions for how we can teach more effectively both in times of crisis and under more normal circumstances. 

At Bergen, many students already lived with little to no financial security—a situation exacerbated by the shutdown. For some students, like one who works at a pizzeria in town, there are longer hours paired with the anxiety that comes from delivering food during a pandemic. “I’ve taken on extra shifts since many of my coworkers stopped working to protect themselves,” another writes, “so it is difficult for me to get my coursework done after … truly working to my limit.” For many students, working in these essential jobs has become even more necessary because their parents have lost their jobs or fear losing them. 

For those students who could remain at home, there was frustration that many professors didn’t understand the challenges they now faced. One parent of three wrote, “my challenges are mostly centered around homeschooling my children. Between Zoom conferences and teleconferences of their schools, feeding them … [and] keeping them busy … the only time I have to focus on college is at night.” Others felt the disparity of their home and economic situations as they tried to manage coursework suddenly all online without their own laptops or strong internet connections. One explained, “not everyone has a good internet connection to handle Zoom meetings and video conferences.” Others faced more personal crises in being forced to stay at home. One student confided, “for many LGBTQ+ students … college can be a major safe space and allows for an outlet to be our true selves and, if you’re like me at least and have a family that isn’t so accepting, well then it’s back in the closet.” 

Read entire article at Perspectives on History

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