Well, here we are. The University of New Mexico’s fall semester is set to begin — barring any other crazy, life-altering event — but the semester is starting in one of the most tumultuous times in recent human history.
While we deal with political, social and economic issues, society is also grappling with the worst pandemic in recent memory. The outbreak of COVID-19 exposed a lot of holes in the infrastructure of our nation, and our universities are no different.
Overnight, students and professors were forced to embrace new, rigid realities, both in their personal and academic lives.
Students were tested in ways that were unimaginable 12 months previously. For those who lived on campus in the spring, this came in the form of being forced out of their dorms in a matter of days. Packing up an entire life and moving back home. Your whole existence flipped on its head.
And then in a matter of two weeks you needed to prepare for classes to start again, except now you were relegated to tiny squares on a computer screen. Almost every major college and university across the nation switched their courses to be exclusively online during the latter half of the 2020 spring semester.
In truth, the issues of online classes could have been mitigated, to a certain degree, if we as a collective had listened to the advice that our top medical officials gave us at the outset of the pandemic.
Sadly, that hasn’t been and still isn’t the case. Instead, we now return to the online courses of last semester — another reminder that this world is not remotely close to getting back to normal.
And while many classes had a fairly easy time with the transition to online Zoom calls, others had a difficult time with the upheaval.This is in large part due to the technology required to make online learning accessible.
A strong and stable internet connection is often needed to make sure that you’re at least getting a decent experience when trying to use Zoom.
Unfortunately, not everyone is privileged enough to have a strong Wi-Fi connection or a functional computer, and class lectures become harder to follow when your video freezes or your audio lags.
It is also recommended that individuals have a desktop or laptop to use so they can access Zoom meetings with ease.
But isn’t there a Zoom app? Of course there is — it’s 2020, not the Bronze Age — but it is a lot easier to use the desktop version in our experience.
Then there are issues that instructors face when trying to run online classes. Professors who never planned to hold their courses virtually were now supposed to overhaul their entire curriculum for a new online setting, forcing some to make alterations that deeply affected their curriculum.
Often, there are technological glitches and errors that occur during an online Zoom session, thereby degrading the pedagogical experience even further.
Not to mention, it’s harder for instructors to pay attention to each individual student to make sure that they are focused and actually learning something from the day's class.
From our limited exposure to online Zoom sessions, it seems that while students are physically there, most are mentally elsewhere.
Online classes can work if students and professors know how to use Zoom and other online meeting programs. But this often doesn’t happen and can lead to a course that is watered down from the in-person equivalent.
Personally, we feel that in-person classes provide a better learning environment, and we were hopeful that we would get back on track before the fall semester. That people would’ve taken the quarantine and social distancing instructions seriously, and we would be able to feel excited to return to campus on Monday.
But, with the pandemic still lingering in the air like the smell of the 75 or so Bradford pear trees scattered around campus in spring, we definitely don’t want to sit in a tiny, claustrophobic classroom where we will most likely catch and transmit the virus.
It feels like students and teachers are in a lose-lose situation, where one scenario sees us all returning to campus and passing along a generation-defining illness amongst ourselves. The other sees us staying in our homes to deal with the issues that online courses provide.
But hopefully, we can all grow from this unique experience and be able to come out on the other side stronger.
Spencer Butler is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SpencerButler48
Gino Gutierrez is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @ggutierrez_48