Devastating news greeted Point Loma Nazarene University students when they opened their email inboxes on July 28: “PLNU has finalized its plan to begin the fall 2020 undergraduate semester remotely, on Monday, Aug. 17.” This semester presented unique challenges for students in many diverse circumstances.
First-year student Sara Whitmer had a dull start to her first semester of college. She had been told college was “like a constant sleepover,” and was looking forward to meeting new people. The email saying the semester would take place remotely leveled these former expectations.
“It was kind of sucky at first: living at home, having to do classes in my room,” Whitmer said. “It was kind of boring and there wasn’t a whole lot of interaction.”
According to Whitmer, the community — one of the most highlighted qualities of PLNU — wasn’t present even when she moved on campus. Without chapel, in-person classes or roommates, the 2020 college experience for Whitmer was lackluster to say the least.
“I don’t know anything different because I’ve never done college before. To me, this is normal.”
A silver lining for Whitmer was the light workload. According to her, four general education courses at PLNU were less work than her senior year of high school. After lamenting having to spend seven to eight hours a day at school in the past, Whitmer said her current class schedule was very flexible. On top of that, being able to turn off the camera when she didn’t feel like looking presentable was another benefit of online classes.
At the end of the day, Whitmer said she’s just grateful to continue classes at all while taking baby steps toward normalcy.
Sophomore biology major Garrett Dennis had the nowhere-near-normal experience of switching majors during the fall 2020 semester. Dennis began as a psychology major but decided to pursue a career in genetic counseling and switched to biology.
“Switching majors this late in the game is going to be difficult whether in person or online, but I think it was especially difficult online,” Dennis said. “It’s just hard communicating a lot of the stuff over Zoom, and it would be a lot easier if I could meet with counselors and professors in person.”
Dennis named Workday as the biggest headache when it came to switching into classes to fit his new major. Despite this, he said he felt PLNU was supportive in the process of settling into his new major. The counselors were quick to get in touch and professors were accommodating about prerequisites and finding classes that hadn’t already filled.
For Dennis, the online experience as a whole had ups and downs. He said while he preferred to be in a classroom where he can get to know professors and classmates, something special came from going remote.
“I think it’s been really cool to see how the student body and the administration has reacted to online learning. They’re still able to be accommodating and make themselves available despite not being in person,” Dennis said.
Not everyone hates the new online format. In fact, some found ways to make it work to their advantage. Isabel Garcia, a PLNU junior, thrived in the online environment as a double major in biology and music. She described the transition to a semester fully online as seamless, since she already took five online classes over the summer. The first instance of remote learning in March combined with those five courses kept up the online rigor.
“In retrospect, it kind of is a bit tiring, [but] it helped keep me prepped for this type of learning,” Garcia said.
Less running around between classes and more time at home provided Garcia with more pockets of study time that normally wouldn’t exist. Campus life involves finding time to go to the Caf to eat, heading to the library to study and catching up with friends you run into in between. All this eats up studying time needed for the intense workload that accompanies her two majors.
“If you’re on campus, you’re just naturally more involved in things, so it’s easy for your time to be divided into so many pieces,” Garcia said. “I would study for 20-30-minute chunks throughout the day and some days I wouldn’t even have time to study.”
The ability to rewatch lectures has been game-changing for Garcia. Most students experience sluggish days in class where they don’t retain the material. Ideal education, in Garcia’s case, gives students the chance to sit down sometime after first watching the lecture and review anything they may have missed.
PLNU plans to begin classes in a hybrid format in the spring 2021 semester, but if this past year taught us anything, it’s that a lot can change in a few months. For many students, this first online semester at PLNU was a rollercoaster of emotions. So, how is everything after 16 weeks of online learning?
“I guess it’s not as horrible as I thought it would be going into this,” Dennis said. “I don’t like it, but it’s not disastrous either.”
Written by: Noah Harrel