By Iain McCay ’22
As students prepared to leave campus in March, the normally quiet murmur of the days where students pack what they need was a resonant silence. The unifying factor was uncertainty. No one knew what the coming months or even weeks contained.
One question has since been answered: How would we adapt to distance learning? Like the rest of the country, Carleton tried to replicate the virtues of an in-person experience from a socially responsible distance—in this case, often a thousand or more miles apart.
All three students I talked to mentioned timing. While there were still deadlines to meet and schedules to fit into, Carleton students had never been more in control of their own schedules. Paige Ehresmann ’22, an economics major, was been able to do something she never has otherwise.
“I haven’t done any homework on a weekend this term,” she said. “That’s practically impossible to do on campus.”
Being able to watch lectures at her own pace allowed Paige to establish a work-life balance and spend more time with her corgi (who keeps her “optimistic”) and her fiancé.
Chait Sayani ’21, a double major in computer science and economics, also found that video lectures were beneficial, especially in his computer science courses.
“Being able to go back and re-watch the lecture itself is really helpful,” he said. You can’t pause and re-watch a particularly dense section of an in-person lecture, making distance learning somewhat advantageous in this way.
Of course, not all courses were as adaptable. “Most of the classes I am taking involve a great deal of work that would have been done on my own in the first place, so for all of my classes, we’ve still been able to maintain a relatively similar structure that wasn’t really that disruptive,” Chait said.
Other courses had to be more innovative. Gavin Young ’21, a studio art and biology double major, had a ceramics course scheduled for spring term, which, of course, had to change radically to adapt to distance learning. Instead of a hands-on course, it became a ceramics art history course with an emphasis on conceptualizing design, he said, which was a surprisingly effective replacement. “I’m in constant appreciation of the ability of the professors to adapt,” he said.
In large part, the ability for classes to move online was thanks to the Alumni Annual Fund. The fund provided WiFi routers to students without access to the Internet, as well as several laptops to students without devices, and helped students get home under emergency conditions. This kind of unplannable event is part of what makes the AAF so critical. Without it, the college would be left without recourse under conditions like a worldwide pandemic, and ultimately, students’ education would suffer. But thanks to the college’s many generous donors, the Alumni Annual Fund was there as a life vest, keeping the Carleton community afloat.
Altogether, spring term wasn’t lost quite in the way it felt it would be in March. Get-togethers moved from the Hill of Three Oaks to windows on computer screens, and classes moved from the CMC to the living room, but Carleton students still experienced a rigorous learning experience and formed lifelong friendships.
“I have a much stronger concept of what certain relationships mean to me, and how to prioritize the relationships that are important to me,” Gavin said. “It’s not something that I haven’t figured out how to do yet, but it’s something that I need to … I’m not always going to have Carleton, but I do want to always have some of the relationships I’ve developed here.”