How Campus Closures have Affected Graduate Students
The COVID-19 pandemic abruptly changed the way millions of students are learning across the world. No matter the age of the student, they have been impacted by attending face-to-face classes one day and suddenly not returning for the rest of the academic year the next day. Graduate students are no different. For the majority of graduate students, their semesters were at least half way completed when courses were moved completely online. Midterm exams were finished and all that was left was the final push to the end of the semester. Unfortunately, the transition to online learning was difficult for many students.
Many graduate students thrive on the in-class support they receive from their professors and fellow classmates. Listening to lectures and having the opportunity to participate and debate during class was taken from them when online learning began. All grading comes from online participation and assignments. Graduate students in experiential learning courses like student teaching and internships saw their time cut short.
Student support services have also moved online. Students do not have the one-on-one interaction with their academic supervisors and faculty members. Although university personnel have all transitioned their presence into the online world, students are missing the face-to-face support that they are so accustomed to. Library faculty at a Knowledge Bar or reference desk in the library are no longer there for instant support when doing research. Students cannot catch their academic supervisors in between classes just to chat. The social loss of being on a college campus is extremely challenging for so many.
Further effects of campus closures are the many lost academic opportunities. College campuses offer graduate students many areas to further their educational experiences. Research in labs, on-campus clinics, and volunteer events are either no longer accessible or are cancelled. Graduate students are now longing for these additional opportunities that enhanced their coursework and furthered their education.
Ways to Support Graduate Students
There are a variety of technological and non-tech solutions to support graduate students affected by college campus closings. First and foremost, universities and departments have to create online communities for students. Socialization and the sharing of knowledge are a major component of attending a university. Therefore, creating communities in a new way for these students to express themselves will positively impact their educational experiences now that everything is virtual.
Faculty members can create private groups on social media and invite their students to join. There, faculty can keep the chat informal and create a place to check in on how their students are doing. Students can keep in contact with one another in an asynchronous way. Academic supervisors can create their own personal Zoom meeting room with designated drop-in hours so that students can log in as if they were stopping by during office hours. Face-to-face communication is often a much better way to explain a problem and understand a response than over email.
Another way that universities can student support is to have the career service office on their campus provide opportunities to practice skills for job interviewing over Zoom or Google Meet. Online job interviews require an additional set of skills. Many graduate students have never had a job interview over a computer and need to practice those competencies before a real interview.
Graduate students may also run into problems with completing assignments on time with campuses being closed and everyone working from home remotely. Students who were used to studying and doing work in a library or classroom may be struggling with working at home. They may have children at home or siblings that do not afford them a quiet place to get work done or internet problems. Faculty should be flexible about extending deadlines for papers and assignments if their students are struggling for these reasons.
Furthermore, faculty can provide additional teaching opportunities by creating small online group sessions. These additional sessions can allow students the time to hear further explanations of content and the opportunity to ask questions and clarifications in real time. Students may not feel comfortable posting questions in online forums, so providing them these small group sessions will give them the chance to clear any of their misconceptions.
Health and wellness is another realm of need for so many in our world including graduate students. These services need to continue even if campuses are closed. Counseling centers can host virtual sessions on a range of topics from dealing with depression to enhancing study skills from home. These can be closed sessions so that students feel comfortable participating in them if the topic is difficult. Wellness centers can email students weekly with ways to keep healthy and active from home. Students cannot forget about their physical health because it will affect the way that they perform academically. University professionals can also make phone calls to those who were struggling before campus closed and now may be struggling even more. Personalized contact can make the difference of whether a grad student stays engaged with online learning or does not.
Finally, university administration and faculty need to recognize online learning and professional development as a completely new way of life. There are many challenges and frustrations that may come from both graduate students and faculty. However, by acknowledging these struggles and working to constantly improve online learning, all will have a better experience.