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First-year Mizzou students adjust during coronavirus pandemic changes

In early March, five students from St. Charles County thought the second semester of their first year at the University of Missouri was going very well. Having started in mid-August 2019, they had adjusted to life in dormitories and to the workload of Honors College courses. Then, all of our lives changed.

On Friday, March 13, the students — Ally, Cooper, Timothy, Brendan and Cameron — received notice that MU classes would be canceled for one week. The following Monday, March 16, all in-person classes were suspended indefinitely. The five friends started attending virtual college courses that week. 

By the end of that same week, a notice to move home as soon as possible was sent to all students. Spring Break started on Saturday, March 21.  All students were to move out, return to their homes and not be in the dormitories after Spring Break ended as of Monday, March 30. The only exceptions were for special circumstances, such as students from other countries, where travel would be difficult to nearly impossible

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The familiar, comforting status of being a full-time, campus-residing, typical college student was quickly transformed amid COVID-19-related precautions.

“Several of us visited campus one last time to move out of the dorms, and we all are sad to see the campus so empty,” Cameron said. “Personally, I think it looks like a ghost town.”

For students at MU and elsewhere, many of the questions were the same: Will we be able to finish the current semester and receive full credit hours?  What will happen with summer school, if we planned to attend? Will there be Mizzou classes this fall? What will happen with dollars already paid for items like room and board and meal plans on campus for this semester?

The answers vary by institution, but for MU, they go like this: 

Yes, students will receive full credit hours as long as they finish their courses online. The summer semester will be offered online only; however, it’s likely that students will be allowed back on campus for fall 2020. As for room and board and other prepaid items, portions of some of those are being prorated and refunded.

“There still is uncertainty hanging over the fall semester regarding online classes or in-person,” Cameron said. “Mizzou has been punctual with the refunds they’ve promised to deliver, which was a tall order.”

Will there be any adverse effects of online-only classes? It’s simply too soon to tell and that goes for students in elementary and secondary settings as well.

In early April, Mid Rivers Newsmagazine reached out to the five freshmen to see how they are doing with living at home and attending virtual classes via the internet.

When asked how well online classes are going, Cameron said, “Moderately well. It’s an adjustment for just about everyone, although some have more of an advantage through access to better resources [technology, WiFi, quiet space, etc.].” 

All said they can’t stress enough how strange the new format is.  

“A majority of my classes have switched to asynchronous instruction, using recorded lectures and assigning online worksheets, homework and tests. For live instruction, the university spent a large amount of money on acquiring premium subscriptions for all students and faculty to Zoom, essentially an upgraded Skype, designed for educators and professionals with screen-sharing and small group instruction capabilities,” Cameron said. “Other professors simply opt for Panopto, a platform that allows professors to video record them lecturing over PowerPoint slides.

“The university has implemented an optional satisfactory or unsatisfactory grading scale to hopefully remedy these issues, but for me at least, I’d rather take advantage of all my free time and resources and stick with the graded option, as it is the most beneficial for my GPA.”

Cameron explained that the satisfactory/unsatisfactory option will allow students to pass the class for credit, but will not provide anything toward grade point averages.

“This format has unfortunate ramifications for those going into graduate school or professional school, as they ideally would be using this time to research, work as an intern, or gain other such experiences used for resumes. This, unfortunately, applies to myself and a large number of friends,” Cameron said. 

When asked how well studying and doing homework from home was going, Ally said, “It’s gone pretty well academically; the key is to keep your attention on a short leash. Getting up, getting ready, physically going to classes and the routine that was made of this made getting work done almost second nature. The regularity was a nice way to deal with a heavy workload.

“The same workload at home, perhaps a bit heavier as a consequence of the transition to online classes, feels much different due to the lack of routine. I have tried to make somewhat of a schedule for myself and this is helping me get through schoolwork at home.”

Ally said she does miss the campus itself.

“I do miss the changes of scenery I would get at Mizzou, such as studying in Ellis Library, the Bond Life Sciences Center, Cornell Hall or a study room in my dorm. The consensus among those I talk to is that the forced dual-usage of our spaces [studying and relaxing] is far from ideal at the college level, but it is necessary.”

Asked about how they compensate for not being able to use the campus library, Cooper said, “The library has their staff working from home to provide students with electronic copies of books they may need for assignments. This arrangement requires patience, as it is a resource that is being used very heavily as we reach the last third of the semester, a time when research papers and reading assignments become much heavier.” 

Brendan touched on an aspect of campus life often taken for granted.

“We all miss the Rec, as we all call it. Even though students may not able to use it every day, getting into the recreation center for a quick workout, basketball Brendan said. “As long as outdoor activity is permitted, I try to get outside as the weather gets nicer for tennis, basketball or a walk.”

Asked how well they believe the readjustment is going for being back at home, Tim said, “It’s an adjustment, for sure. I know that all of my friends, myself included, have gotten quite fond of the lifestyle we had in college. Every day was somehow different, and we all found unique things to do what we couldn’t have done at home. No more “Middle Part Wednesdays,” a hair-style tradition started in Rooms 3450 and 3470 [it quite literally means putting your hair in a middle part for a day].

“My college routine is vastly different than my home routine, but my family is happy to have me back and it’s nice being back. Plus, it’s really nice having more than single-digit minutes in the dorm’s shared bathroom.”

Based on what he knows now, Cameron said he wished he had more knowledge of the school’s online platforms going into the shutdown of campus.

“This situation is unprecedented and very unfortunate, but it demonstrated just how important and impactful technology is,” Cameron said. “If given the opportunity to start again today, I would take a whole day just to learn the functionalities of all of our online platforms to their fullest extent, so that the transition to online wasn’t too strange to me. All of us agree that we’d rather be in college at college.”

Collectively, the freshmen gave a nod of thanks to their professors for being “flexible and accommodating.”

“They’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that we have the adequate resources we need, and they’ve been very helpful in making this situation feel more normal,” Cameron said.

The university has moved commencement for graduating seniors online but also announced that a delayed ceremony that will occur sometime in the fall and all seniors will be invited back to walk at graduation then.  

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