Blackboard University: Insight into the lives of college students amidst a global pandemic

Students at George Washington University, American University, and University of Wisconisn-Madison share their remote schooling experiences.

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Shannon Wood

Shannon Wood’s mother hung mock signs on Shannon’s bedroom door in Michigan. College is no longer the same, and it seems that the universities understand this. GWU sent one of Wood’s friends an internet router because she was unable to access the internet from her home.

By Ava Hancock, Eastern Regional High School

Shannon Wood’s sophomore spring semester at George Washington University (GWU) was everything she had ever dreamed of.

She had an internship on Capitol Hill, was living with her three best friends, and was secretary of her service fraternity.

This all came to a screeching halt on March 10. Wood was notified through an email from her university that classes were moving online and that, with spring break just days away, students were to evacuate campus as soon as possible.

“It was like, ‘Hey, we’ll catch you in three weeks, so just leave everything how it is and you can come back and fix it later,’” said Wood.

Just four miles up the road at American University (AU), Maanasi Natarajan was packing up as much as she could fit from her dorm room into her car.

What had begun as a trip to collect her belongings upon the notice that campus would be closed for three weeks turned into a devastating end to her freshman year. In the midst of sifting through clothes to bring back home for her extended spring break, Natarajan had been notified that campus would be closed through the spring semester.

Wood faced the same fate just a few days later.

Students at both George Washington University and American University have petitioned for tuition refunds. Tuition at either school is over $70,000, but many feel they are not getting an education worth this much.

“I wouldn’t expect them to refund us. But it’s like, I feel like I’m getting like a fifth of the level of education that I was getting before,” said Wood.

As more and more colleges beyond D.C. announced closures through the year, it came as no surprise to Amita Doiphode that her first year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) was over, too.

“Madison in general is amazing in the spring; there are lots of block parties hosted by Madison natives. I just miss the bustle,” said Doiphode.

Springtime in D.C. is cherry blossom season, and both Wood and Natarajan expressed regret that they would not be present to see it for themselves.

“People were just starting to sit out on the quad with blankets and do their homework. People were walking around and were outside a lot on campus, which was really nice to see because obviously in January and February no one is outside,” said Natarajan.

Seeing as all students are completing their classes from home, GWU, AU, and UW-Madison have issued refunds for housing. AU and UW-Madison have also refunded their students their meal plan costs; GWU has not done this because they operate on a roll-over system where dining cash not used by the end of one semester rolls over to the consecutive semester.

There are several different ways that professors are conducting online classes. Wood, a political science major, and Natarajan, a CLEG (communications, legal institutions, economics, and government) major, take their classes mostly on Blackboard Collaborate.

Structure of classes varies. Most professors prepare slideshows and lecture over them using Blackboard Collaborate.

For Doiphode, who is a neurobiology and philosophy major, her once-physical labs are now conducted through online PhET (Physics Education Technology) simulations. Her biology labs now mostly consist of writing proposals.

With online classes come many opportunities for technical difficulties and miscommunication. Sometimes, the bandwidth of the programs cannot even handle the volume of students using them.

College is no longer the same, and it seems that the universities understand this. GWU sent one of Wood’s friends an internet router because she was unable to access the internet from her home.

Universities are also accommodating students living in different parts of the country and the world who may not be able to make it to online classes on time due to time zone differences..

“For a lot of my classes, attending them [live] has been optional because they don’t want to make [students] wake up at, like 5 in the morning,” said Wood.

Wood has fortunately been able to continue her job as a legislative intern after reaching out to her boss about working from home. From her bedroom, she fields phone calls for the 8th Congressional District of Michigan.

Despite the uncertainty of the situation, college students hope to resume to some sense of normalcy within the next academic year.

Wood hopes to study abroad in Greece next spring. Doiphode is excited to continue to compete with her Bollywood Fusion dance team at school in the fall. Natarajan can’t wait to be reunited with her friends.

“Being at college and seeing your college friends are not mutually exclusive. You can’t be at college without seeing your friends and you can’t see your friends without being at college. I just want to be back at college,” said Natarajan.

This story was originally published on The Voyager on April 27, 2020.