It was the morning of her freshman Calculus III exam when Clairy Reiher got stuck in traffic while commuting to College Park. The atmospheric and oceanic science major had a nervous breakdown in her car, thinking she would miss the exam’s start and get a horrible grade. Although the drive normally took her an hour at most, the traffic added an extra 15 minutes to Reiher’s trip and she had to run from Terrapin Trail Garage to Reckord Armory in order to make it.
“This is ridiculous. I can’t believe I have to go through this,” Reiher recalled thinking to herself that day.
Now a senior, Reiher said this is one of the reasons why she appreciates online school.
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This semester, the university adopted a hybrid system due to COVID-19. Only about 20 percent of classes are in person and most classes are being conducted online through Zoom and ELMS. Although many students dislike online learning, especially given stagnant tuition costs and social isolation, some students have found benefits in the online environment.
In March, Sumit Sharma, a senior accounting and finance major, said it took time for him to realize online school was the best option in terms of what was necessary for saving lives.
“Eventually I got the hang of the online home learning environment, and I kind of fell in love with it,” he said.
Sharma said he likes the comfort and convenience of doing school from home. As a commuter, he used to wake up at 7 a.m. — two hours before his advanced accounting class — and walk 30 minutes from Terrapin Trail Garage to Van Munching Hall. Sharma now wakes up at 9 a.m., showers, and eats a bowl of cereal all before his 9:30 class. He even has time to go to the gym after he finishes his classes and does his homework in the evenings.
“I have a nice routine now, which I really appreciate,” Sharma said.
Also a commuter, Reiher said she has extra time from not needing to prepare to be on campus all day, which would otherwise include packing her lunch, preparing an outfit and spending nearly two hours driving.
“I have a wild amount of time on my hands now that I never had before,” Reiher said.
Reiher also said one huge educational advantage is that many lectures are now recorded, so she can look back after the live lecture to go over the things she missed in her content-heavy synoptic meteorology class.
“I’m all for it,” said Charles Kropiewnicki, a senior atmospheric and oceanic science major.
Kropiewnicki said he was skeptical of the online platform at first and didn’t think he would get the same quality of education that he had previously been paying for. However, as school went on, he realized being able to do school from anywhere gave him a lot more freedom.
He said the quality of education depends on how well the class can adjust to an online environment. In his synoptic meteorology class, his professor uses a “virtual whiteboard” using his iPad, shares his slideshows with the class and has a live lecture. These three elements are extremely similar to the components of an in-person class.
Other students found health benefits with online school as well.
Samantha Potthast, a senior history major, said the amount of time she has now is amazing. After moving back to Annapolis last March, Potthast said she was able to go to the gym for the first time. Potthast in turn inspired her entire family to start going to the gym, eat healthier and go on walks in their neighborhood.
“We’ve been able to put some more work into ourselves, which is nice,” Potthast said.
Of course, these students miss some parts of in-person school as well.
“It was nice to just run into people and have a simple, organic conversation that you just cannot get with online learning,” Reiher said.
She said in her major, running into people in the hallways and striking up a conversation was a good way to get ideas for upcoming projects — but that is no longer an option.
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“The social aspect of college is completely gone,” said Kropiewnicki, who hasn’t seen anyone in his major all semester.
Sharma said he misses his friends, his job, and playing basketball at Eppley Recreation Center. Back in February and March, Sharma had finally achieved a great work-life balance, but then he had to readjust.
Potthast used to attend Mass at noon everyday when classes were in person. She said this was a time when she was able to “turn everything off for an hour,” and just focus on Mass instead of her classes. Now, she can no longer do that.
However, these students still see the positive changes online school has brought to their lives. The time students normally spend walking from class to class can now be used for other purposes. Commuters have saved gas money, too, and the convenience of hopping on Zoom instead of waking up hours before your first class to get ready is hard to beat.
“I think there are some serious advantages to having certain classes online when their quality is not drastically reduced by having it in a virtual medium,” Reiher said.
Kropiewnicki said if done right, he thinks online learning can be as effective — or more effective — than in-person learning.
Sharma similarly thinks since Zoom has proven effective, it will become a permanent fixture in universities.
“Now, I can’t imagine going back to school in the same way ever again,” Sharma said.