OPINION: New semester brings opportunities for community growth in classroom

Professors reflect on last semester in hopes of improving student experience

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NATALIE BLAKE

Professor speaks to black screens, the reality of online learning.

MEGHAN HENRY, Evergreen opinion editor

There is much to look forward to in a new semester in Pullman: chilly weather, being reunited with friends, new classes and a fresh start to grades. Even online, there is a reinvigorated sense of drive among students and faculty at WSU. 

After a full semester sequestered in our rooms at home and around campus, professors are looking for ways to re-engage themselves and their pupils in a meaningful way. From the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication to the College of Education, our instructors are doubling down on their efforts to bring connection to our Zoom classes.

It gives me hope that this semester will lead to fewer drooping eyelids and a strengthened feeling of community at our beloved school, even online. 

Finding professors who were excited to speak on this topic was not difficult. Although school starts this week, and they were busy with their preparations, many professors took the time to answer questions about what they learned from their first semester online. The overarching theme? Prioritizing the needs of their students despite the unorthodox nature of an online learning environment. 

“My goal [in the fall] was to provide my students a safe place to learn and thrive despite the pandemic and its concomitant effects,” Sola Adesope, professor of STEM education and educational psychology, wrote in an email. 

We can all agree fall semester was a learning curve. But with professors who so clearly worked behind the scenes to ensure a positive learning environment and a university that provided a soft fall for our inevitable slip-ups, I feel much more comfortable walking into the spring semester. They have our backs and we have theirs, and that includes helping us stay on track for our degrees. 

“Even though this arrangement was new to all of us, I wanted students to learn the materials they were expected to learn in a physical classroom,” clinical assistant professor in Murrow College, Somava Pande wrote in an email. 

Though this has been an unprecedented transition, the basics are still required of us. Assignments must be turned in, tests must be taken, and classes must be attended — even if that means sitting at your computer for more than a few hours. 

Professors are aware of the strain of staring at a computer all day, along with the toll it can take on students’ ability to learn.

“Staying on Zoom for 3 hours at the end of the day when many students have had 3-5 hours of Zoom earlier in the day was challenging,” Adesope wrote in an email. 

We will continue to move forward this spring, hopefully working together to make our learning environment more cohesive and meaningful for both parties. We are connected as a learning community as WSU, whether you are a student or a professor. We are all hoping to make something meaningful from another semester at WSU. 

“I have found it more challenging to create community online, but I remain committed to finding ways of making it work,” Leeann Downing Hunter, scholarly associate professor of English, wrote in an email. 

As students, we have our own responsibility to this community. The same way we might have stayed after class to introduce ourselves to professors, we can do the same now by reaching out via email or attending virtual office hours.

It is beyond important to remember how hard our professors are working to make this online forum a flexible and meaningful space for learning. The least we can do is keep our cameras on in class.