The Remote Learner’s Experience During In-Person Classes

Jess Hernandez's desk set-up. Photo courtesy of Elaine Alfaro.

On Mar. 22 Point Loma Nazarene University transitioned to in-person, indoor classroom settings. For most first-year students living on campus, this was the first time they entered PLNU classrooms. However, in the shuffle of setting up classrooms, welcoming in-person learners and maintaining safety protocols, remote students felt the effects of the transition.

Some professors have remote students use the chat function to contribute to class; others have had Zoom problems with screen sharing and audio while trying to manage a class full of in-person students. In both situations, remote students are adapting to get the same educational experience despite technology barriers. But are remote students getting the same learning support as their peers in the classroom? 

Marvin Uluan-Birrueta, a first-year remote student, described the first weeks of being a remote student during in-person classes as challenging. He said, “I would definitely choose in-person classes instead. I would not have gone through the problems I faced in the first two weeks.”

Statistics from National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show “post-secondary enrollments declined 2.5% in fall 2020, nearly twice the rate of enrollment decline reported in fall 2019.” So, how is PLNU administration supporting remote students and making sure they get the same attention in classes?

The Point reached out via email to Holly Irwin, Vice Provost for Academic Administration, who was the main source of communication with undergraduate students regarding remote modality. Irwin said, “Please know that we take the educational experience of our students seriously and want the best experience possible for our students.”

Uluan-Birrueta said virtually attending in-person classes had a rocky start. He said, “It was difficult the first two weeks, especially having to do break-out rooms. Sometimes the professor got far away from the microphone which made me miss important things he/she was going over.” 

Uluan-Birrueta said this problem with the microphone impacted his ability to complete an assignment.

Likewise, Jess Hernandez, another remote first-year student, experienced similar issues in attending in-person classes via Zoom.

“The first week of hybrid classes I wasn’t able to listen to a lecture given by my teacher due to technical difficulties,” Hernandez said. “As a student who wants to make sure they are receiving all the information needed to succeed, not being able to attend class made me feel as if I was falling behind.”

Irwin’s advice to students is to communicate issues with their professors. She said, “As students continue with their studies I would like to encourage them to reach out to professors to ask questions and/or to share concerns about their experiences. Our faculty care about your learning and you can see some really positive effects by engaging in dialog about your classroom experience.”

For some students, it is not always easy to reach out to faculty during an in-person classroom discussion. Hernadez said, “In my classes where some of the students are in person and some are remote, my teachers make sure to check in on those on Zoom. Although they check-in, there have been some moments where I answer a question, but because someone in the classroom spoke first my answer is not taken into consideration. This feeling is very discouraging, but I know teachers are trying their best.” 

Uluan-Birrueta and Hernandez suggested solutions for these setbacks. Hernandez advocated for recording all lectures and said, “Technical difficulties are unexpected, but recording a lecture can assure a remote student they are receiving the same information as students learning in person.” 

Uluan-Birrueta suggested teachers wear a microphone during class. He said, “I think there are always going to be problems no matter what, having a microphone on each professor would help tremendously.”

Mar. 12 was the last day to switch learning modalities, so remote learning amid in-person classrooms is permanent for the remainder of the spring semester. However, many remote students remain hopeful for improvements to foster engagement and communication despite experiencing college through a screen.

By: Elaine Alfaro