The Living-Learning Communities at Oregon State University are available to students living in the residence halls on the Corvallis, Ore. campus and include the Honors College, engineering, business, adventure, Nia Black Scholar, munk-skukum Indigenous community, INTO OSU and Earth2OSU.
These communities have undergone changes in its instruction with everything being virtual throughout the past year. This has impacted the interactions between students and faculty, and has faced them with challenges.
LLCs are academic programs that partner with residential communities on campus. Events are held in those communities related to the area of interest in addition to living among students in the same major, college, academic focus or program.
Due to remote learning and teaching, the number of learning activities that can be accomplished in a remote Zoom lesson has been affected.
INTO OSU serves students from other countries at OSU. Academic preparation, English language training, admissions, recruiting and student services are provided to international students in this program.
According to INTO OSU instructor Lauren Alva, only half the things in a lesson are able to be achieved compared to an in-person class. Managing technical uncertainties from being online has slowed down the learning process.
Alva said the biggest challenges INTO OSU has faced are not being able to be around to offer support related to technology, motivation and engagement. These experiences have pushed these instructors to find creative ways of helping students or realizing that new systems need to be in place to offer them support.
“In many ways, it is more challenging because you can’t simply sit next to a student and walk them through problems they may be facing,” Alva said. “Other individuals or teams need to be involved in order to help students with issues that might have been quickly solved in person or may not have even been problems in the first place.”
These changes have prompted Alva to find ways to facilitate learning and helping students engage in active learning and be responsible for their own learning. She said she sees herself as a facilitator who supports students as they explore and take learning into their own hands.
Shrey Sharma, first-year Honors College exploratory studies student, said it is more challenging to connect with students, professors and other faculty because of different COVID-19 restrictions in place. He said it is hard for him to imagine what a normal college experience would be like. He has become accustomed to wearing masks in the dorms, social gathering restrictions and online learning.
“I do know that restrictions make sense and I know it is for the better,” Sharma said. “They make it hard to meet new people and hang out with friends outside of the dorm I am currently in. Not having that in-person connection with professors also makes it hard to make good relationships with them, but email has been working efficiently when I need to ask questions.”
According to Honors College Student Engagement Coordinator Emily Garcia, a challenge she has faced before is not being able to be physically present in her office. Students were not able to efficiently get advice from her or ask her questions about where to find a resource. Garcia’s current role is a live-in position where she works at her two offices in Sackett Hall and West Hall on the Corvallis campus.
Garcia said her office gets a lot of feedback from students about getting in-person events because of the lack of community they feel. She said they understand that students are experiencing Zoom fatigue and are not necessarily motivated to attend online events.
“I can imagine how different it was here on campus then compared to right now during the pandemic,” Garcia said. “Just from what I’ve learned from students and other staff members, it used to be so lively in the residence halls. People had the freedom to watch movies in the lounges and study together which they still can, but it is a little more limited because we try and monitor to make sure there aren’t a ton of students gathering.”
Alva said a major change for the students in her department is that the majority of her students are located outside of the United States. Those students have been unable to come to Oregon for their academic programs due to pandemic travel restrictions.
This causes these students to take their courses either really early in the morning or very late at night, according to Alva.
The time difference poses a challenge to taking a course at these times since it may not work with their daily schedules. Because of this, students and instructors have had to make adjustments.
“While in a face-to-face class, I might have seen this and tried to get the student to reengage in the lesson, now I can’t really do that, so students do have to check themselves and see if they are following along or getting distracted,” Alva said. “For the students at INTO OSU, I also think that the expectation was to have a fully-immersed English language learning experience in the U.S., so the fact that they are not even able to be in the U.S. is probably a disappointing one that has made online learning more of a challenge.”
The experience depends on the individual student with how some prefer this mode of learning while others prefer in person. One reason students have had a hard time has been because they are suddenly expected to have more responsibility for their learning, Alva said. Professors cannot always determine whether a student is focused on the lesson.
“Again, I don’t really know what it would normally look like since I am used to things being online, but I’ve noticed that it is harder to actually understand and comprehend the material with this kind of learning,” Sharma said. “Being able to roll right out of bed to get to class is kind of nice though!”
Garcia said her department tries to measure how well students are doing with remote learning. Students usually prefer to be more hands-on with their classes especially for labs and group projects. She said she imagines big lecture classes to have more of a challenge than some of the smaller-sized ones the Honors College has.
“I suppose the positive side of that is that learners are simultaneously developing their digital literacy skills, so it is more of a challenge in some ways, but there are benefits of the online learning experience,” Alva said.