Students struggle and faculty scrambles with the announcement of the online spring 2021 semester

“Online classes aren’t the same experience as face-to-face”

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As American River College makes the announcement of another online semester, students and professors will need to prepare themselves for the hardships of working from home this current semester has already brought. (Photo Illustration by Brandon Zamora)

Oden Taylor and Brandon Zamora

On Sept. 16, the American River College communications office announced in an email to students and faculty that the spring 2021 semester will be almost completely online, with exceptions made for a limited number of departments such as the medical program. 

Scott Crow, ARC’s public information officer, explained in a written statement to the Current that the decision to continue online for the spring 2021 semester was made in order to ensure the well-being of both staff and students during the pandemic.

“The Los Rios colleges decided to pursue a mostly online spring semester because the safety and health of our students and employees is our highest priority,” Crow wrote. “Since there are few indications that public health dynamics will change dramatically in the next several months, the spring 2021 semester will be fully online with only limited exceptions for programs that train first responders or those in areas that have an urgent and significant health and safety impact on our communities.” 

Crow said that the early announcement of next semester’s plans was strategic in order to most effectively help students.

“The announcement was made in mid-September to give students time to plan for an online spring and give the colleges opportunities to actively plan for how to best continue serving students,” Crow said.

For some ARC students, the prospect of taking online classes again full-time next semester isn’t very promising. Abraham Mejia, social science major, said the thought of another online semester sounds like a difficult task.

“It felt very demotivating because some of the classes I have now are manageable but some of the classes I need to take in order to transfer are more hands-on and discussion-based,” Mejia said. “Online classes aren’t the same experience as face-to-face.” 

According to Mejia, his plans before the pandemic were to graduate from ARC in the spring 2021 semester and transfer to a four-year university. However, now because of this transition to online classes, he isn’t sure if he’ll be able to keep to that timeline because of some of the classes he has left to take.

“I have to take these other classes I would’ve taken next semester at another time now,” Mejia said. “If I’m taking one difficult class from home, there are so many things that’ll distract me from getting my work done unlike when I’m in person and I can put all my focus on that class.”

Mejia said he’s not only struggling with classes but also managing the club for which he is president, Latinos Unidos, which he says has been hard to handle in this new online environment. According to Mejia, Latinos Unidos members are used to communicating with their members face-to-face as well as trying to encourage newer students at ARC to join their club, but because that in-person interaction is gone, it’s much harder to communicate.

“Our club does more social outreach in person, but now that we can’t meet up or host these events like we used to before, we don’t have the advantage to help each other out and other people who are looking to join ARC and Latinos Unidos,” Mejia said. “Most people are not going to want to go to club meetings online, especially newer members because of that lack of motivation.”

Another problem students are dealing with, and will still be trying to handle next semester, is the hardship of juggling school and work. 

According to Ethan Guillaume, philosophy major, the transition to online classes has been alienating and made it harder for him to keep a balance between his school work and job, to the point where he had to request fewer hours from his job just to make sure he could stay on track of this new online learning environment.  

“Before the pandemic, I had a set schedule that was easy for me to juggle both work and school, but now I have six hours worth of homework, I don’t know when I’ll get it done,” Guillaume said. “I had to ask my boss to reduce my hours to only three days a week just so I can keep up with my classes, it’s more helpful to have a structure [with] regular weekly in-person meetups, but now having these online classes makes me feel so alienated.”

It’s not just students at ARC dealing with the hardship of more online classes to come. Many professors are still trying to adapt to this change as well. 

History professor Ricardo Caton, said he needed to do more work and planning into his teaching to make sure all of his students can see and understand everything in an online environment. 

“Everything needs to be accessible for my students,” Caton said. “I need to make sure all videos and lectures I upload on Canvas come with captions or I have to add them in myself.”

Despite the extra work, Caton says he has been able to get some positives from this experience. He says that teaching online is giving him more options in the future on how he can teach his classes in the most effective way possible. 

“I’m looking at it to a positive standpoint, if ever a situation like this comes again I’ll be ready to make the transition online and this has allowed me to teach more effectively online,” Caton said. “From a teaching standpoint, this has given me the opportunity to give my students more variety —in the future, I can offer my classes to be both online and in-person.”

The college’s administration staff recognizes the challenges faced by students and faculty and says it’s hopeful for a safe return to in-person learning in the future. 

“We recognize an online semester does create challenges, so we are committed to serving students through a wide variety of online support services,” Crow said. “We look forward to the day when we can return to on-campus classes—when it is appropriate from a public health standpoint.”