Lucas looks ahead to an unusual term.
Lucas looks ahead to an unusual term.
So. Spring Term. It’s happening.
Right? Yeah. It’s happening. It’s real.
This term I’m taking Electricity and Magnetism (the next core physics course for the major), Introduction to Statistics (because I can’t get enough of the math department), Introduction to Rhetoric (new department: English!), and What Physicists Do (good question, right?). Don’t worry, though — I’m not really overloading. That last one is a one-credit, pass-fail lecture series.
Oh right. Everything’s pass fail now.
Things definitely aren’t normal. I’m attending class in bed! At my friend’s house! In Illinois! Over Zoom!
Where did Zoom come from? Nobody knows. Now it’s our entire world.
I’m nervous about the whole remote learning thing, of course. It’s a new format that nobody was really prepared for. I was super excited for all of my classes so I don’t want any of them to be “messed” with in any way. And at least one of them is pretty integral to my intended course of study. But what can you do? Honestly, there is part of me that’s a little excited. I’m genuinely just so curious about how all of this will work out. So the term’s definitely got my attention.
As messy and fake as everything feels right now, though, I want to take the chance to make the rest of this post a shout-out to all my professors. Wow. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Carleton extended our spring break by a week in part to give professors time to reformat their courses for remote learning. It’s by no means an ideal situation, but my professors have gone above and beyond in adapting to the change.
Basically, classes are now broken up into what we call synchronous and asynchronous meeting / work blocks. Synchronous meetings occur at the same time, ensuring that students and professors all get the chance to discuss things, verbally, on the same page. However, we’re all scattered to different time zones now, so synchronous meetings aren’t feasible for everyone. That’s where asynchronous work comes in: self-scheduled study based on online materials, notes, pre-recorded lectures, etc. that our professors post on our class Moodle pages. This sacrifices some intimacy for the sake of universal accessibility.
Some classes, like my statistics course, are entirely asynchronous now: no scheduled classes, just weekly reading, problem sets, quizzes, and projects. That doesn’t mean no contact with our professor, though. Professor Biesel (who taught me multivariable calculus way back during my freshman fall!) offers multiple office hours opportunities, where students can schedule or drop into meetings with him to discuss coursework over Zoom. My physics course has turned into a mix: Monday and Friday classes are still intact (although not required), but have been reworked into very group work-heavy sessions. On Wednesdays, class time has been converted into an open student help session where anyone can join the Zoom meeting to ask questions about whatever they’re working on. The same goes for Tuesday and Thursday lab periods.
And those labs.
How were they ever going to work remotely?! That’s definitely something I’d asked myself a lot. Turns out, the answer is through a lot of prep work on the parts of my professors. As in, they went to the trouble of pre-recording various lab activities from a first-person perspective before the start of the trimester. It’s, again, not ideal, but way better than nothing. And the extra work on our behalf that it all represents is truly touching.
My rhetoric class, meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays, feels the most similar to what it was going to be. Fortunately, everyone in the course is living in relatively similar timezones, so we get to keep things routed in those originally scheduled blocks of time. I’ve been enjoying the readings immensely, and our assignments use a clever online blog strategy: we respond to prompts on a WordPress page (similar to the one I’m using right now!), and our professor leaves comments directly on those pages. In a term that’s seen a whole host of technical difficulties, this particular Internet Solution has been quite straightforward and quite effective.
I guess the biggest thing my professors have offered all of us, though, is their time and flexibility. They know things aren’t going to work perfectly smoothly, and have done their best to signal what they’re doing about it, and the understanding they intend to show us. Similarly, they’ve made themselves incredibly available to us, making up the best they can for lost in-person instructional time.
For my physics class, I can drop in for professor office hours on Mondays from 1:00pm to 2:00pm through Zoom. Or from 4:00pm to 6:00pm to work with a student lab assistant. Or on Tuesday, between 8:00am and 12:00pm, and again from 1:00pm to 5:00pm. Or go to that night’s 7:00pm to 10:00pm problem solving session. If that doesn’t work, maybe Wednesday will! Because there are, again, 11:10am to 12:20pm office hours. And 2:00pm to 4:00pm student lab assistant hours. And 7:00pm to 9:00pm ones. Thursday? Office hours from 8:00am to 12:00pm and 1:00pm to 5:00pm. And another problem solving session from 7:00pm to 10:00pm.
Sunday? Yep. Problem solving session from 2:00pm to 4:00 pm, another from 7:00pm to 10:00pm, and yet another block of student lab assistant hours from 8:00pm to 10:00pm.
It’s incredible. And it stretches across the timezones admirably well. So I hope my shock and gratitude at just how much everyone is bending over backwards for each other to make this all work makes some sense now.
So… That’s what Zoom College looks like. For now at least. Sorry if this was a little scattered; I’m still living in a kind of personal Twilight Zone. But I’ll keep y’all updated. Some time in the future.
Time still exists, right?
Lucas is sheltering in place for the rest of his sophomore year. He’s fighting his pandemic anxiety with a passion for all things nerdy and a talent for overthinking and awkwardness (and self-deprecation). He hails from Pasadena, California, and he hopes everyone is okay back there. He currently sees himself majoring in Physics, although he hopes to explore Cinema and Media Studies, Chemistry, Economics, and Computer Science (among many other subjects) as well. He misses everyone and sends his love. Meet the other bloggers!