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Directly from the Source: Spring 2021

Directly from the Source: An Update on the Spring 2021 Semester

students walking on campusHear directly from students, faculty members and administrators to better understand the current reality of campus life, as well as the challenges (and successes) of learning during this unprecedented time.

It’s been nearly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic forced students, faculty and staff to retreat from campus and pivot to online learning. You can read about how the campus community came together to make the remote transition possible during the early days of the pandemic, here.

This spring, Agnes Scott made a hopeful step toward a full reopening of campus by welcoming nearly 300 students back in residence, and offering classes in dual-mode of both online and in-person. To ensure the safety of returning students, Agnes Scott launched the "Be Well Campaign" dedicated to informing a smart and healthy campus community. Learn more about the campaign and take the "Be Well Pledge," here.

Speaking to parents last week, Vice President of Academic Affairs & Dean of the College Christine Cozzens reflected on this past year and current semester by noting there are many useful lessons that the college will incorporate in future learning plans, but was also quick to remind the group of the unfortunate reality of learning and teaching since the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's a challenge for students to connect and carry the learning out of the classroom," Cozzens said. "We are still listening to students, still trying to improve their experience, still trying to do everything we can to make online learning meaningful and enjoyable."

Read below for more insight on the challenges and successes of Agnes Scott's return to campus and dual-mode classes during the spring 2021 semester.

How does campus look different from pre-COVID times? What are the major obstacles/challenges?

  • Mackenzie Mitchell '23
    Campus is quieter. There is less community this semester. The biggest obstacle for me is picking who to be around. It was difficult building a small and safe bubble at first because you inevitably have to make the decision about which friends you will see and who you won't. It is also difficult to not constantly check the COVID-19 data on the college's dashboard. Checking it allows me to speculate who has COVID-19 and who doesn't which is definitely detrimental to my mental health.

How has your experience changed from initial remote learning last year to this semester?

  • Gabrielle Anthony '21
    Initially, working from home was very fun. I think that was because we all thought it would be for just a few weeks or until the end of the semester and that we would be back in August with no problem. The pandemic became a much larger issue than we were able to guess and we were remote for fall of 2020. I was grateful to be home with family and in a familiar environment during the pandemic. I found a routine that worked for me. 

    The learning environment feels more transactional rather than collaborative when you are remote. The professor is providing information and you are internalizing it to only be able to restate it on a test or in a paper. I know for sure that I would enjoy my classes and coursework more if I were in person. As a student ambassador for the college, I know a lot of students choose Agnes Scott because of the classroom environment and being able to build relationships during your first year in the residence halls. This remote experience is very different from the one I experienced for 3 years.

    Looking at the brighter side of things, I was able to secure an internship with the ACLU National Office in New York City, NY this semester, and that would not have been possible without the ability to work remotely. Lots of opportunities have opened up for students who are able to take advantage of them.

  • Gwyn Rush '21
    At the beginning of online learning last March, it was definitely hard to keep track of classes and assignments without the same reminders and environment I had while being on campus. I think I've mostly been able to address that, but sometimes I do still lose track of time and miss things because I'm not surrounded by other students, even in spite of being very organized with my calendars and planners! This experience has been tough on all of us⁠—students, faculty, and staff. I think overall we're still working on finding ways to cope. The best I can hope for until we can be together again is finding a balance between meeting our own individual needs and respecting the space of others in this incredibly tumultuous and stressful time.

  • TiaSamone Haygood '21
    As a senior, this semester feels more overwhelming than last. I often reminisce about my late study nights with friends in the dining hall. The study experience isn’t the same. Although it is different, I appreciate the time my professors take out for their students. I have received support from my SUMMIT advisor, major advisor and other mentors from Agnes Scott. Office hours and events “on campus” are even more accessible for me to attend.
    - TiaSamone Haygood '21

What do you most look forward to when you come back to campus?

  • Gabrielle Anthony '21
    Luckily, I will be returning to Atlanta for my graduation (yay!) in May. I look forward to just being able to walk the cobblestone and maybe sit out on the grass for a bit with my best friend. All of those small things are what I miss most about the campus. Since I left so abruptly, I am hoping that this will provide a bit of closure on my college experience so that I can continue to my next phase of life with clarity and hope.

  • Gwyn Rush '21
    Unfortunately, I'm graduating this semester so I won't be able to experience being a student back on the Agnes Scott campus. However, once the Main renovations are finished and it's safe, I really hope to participate in the bell ringing tradition to celebrate my recent graduate school acceptance!

  • TiaSamone Haygood '21
    For graduation, I look forward to visiting campus again. I can’t wait to see my classmates and enjoy our last few moments together as undergraduates at Agnes Scott.

  • Deyana Siddiqui '21
    I will be graduating this semester so I won't be able to return to attend classes, but I do look forward to seeing my professors and fellow Scotties at commencement.

What classes are you teaching this semester? Are any of them in-person?

  • John Pilger, William Rand Kenan Jr. Professor of Biology
    I do not teach any dual mode classes. I chose the fully online option to avoid the distraction of having to keep up with students in front of me and others on the computer screen, often with their cameras turned off. My teaching strength is best used in live, synchronous class sessions, but because we, understandably, cannot offer a solely in-person option, I chose online. Nevertheless, many students prefer to keep their video cameras turned off and I miss seeing their faces. But at least my attention can be focused solely on one set of students, those on the screen. I fear that when we go back to face-to-face, I will only know the few students who have been in my classes and who have been interactively engaged in the learning experience. Getting to know our students and developing a mentoring relationship with them is very satisfying, but it takes more strategic effort to make it happen in these restrictive pandemic conditions.

Are you teaching remote classes differently than when the college first went to remote learning a year ago? How have students responded?

  • Robin Morris, Associate Professor of History
    Yes! I've learned more about how to use Canvas, so I think I am using that better. I think I also settled into the idea that this is not changing. In the spring, everything kept being new (like Zoom, so much of Canvas, quarantining and mask-wearing). It was overwhelming. Now, so much of this is "normal.” I'm not having to figure out EVERYTHING in life, because I've figured out how to get groceries, how to be social, how to get exercise, etc. I have more space in my brain for new classes and new students.

    I've also tried to stay mindful of student experiences. I added a "Getting to Know You" question for points on Canvas that takes the place of some of that "extra" conversation in hallways, the dining hall, etc. Things like "What's your favorite song to get pumped up?" or "What's the book you've read over and over again?" Many students aren't on campus and can't access reserves, so I tried to make sure that the books for each class were under $30 total. That's meant finding more readings online. I've been finding more pedagogical uses for the great databases through the library. I've been searching for open-access primary sources throughout the web. I also know how important it is to take screen breaks, so I'm trying to use some podcasts in place of articles. These are great because podcasts are really wonderful at connecting past to present — and that's a skill our students can build.

  • David Thompson, Annie Louise Harrison Waterman Professor of Theatre
    In remote classes, I am seeing a vast increase in comfort level. Last spring, when something went wrong with Zoom, everybody panicked. Students and faculty alike were sure that they were going to miss something or worried that a tech problem was unsolvable. Internet problems and software glitches are now akin to speakers clearing their throat. Things just happen. The atmosphere is now more relaxed and that may be a lesson for all of us to carry into the future.

  • Amy Lovell, Professor of Astronomy
    Yes, I've definitely gotten better at managing Zoom and all the different windows. I'm much faster at editing the recordings. I'm using a pen/stylus that really helps me doing numerical/mathematical things. I've learned Canvas better and have fewer glitches. We're better at group collaboration now, too, I think. Knowing at the beginning of the semester what to plan for is always better than a surprise remote learning for two months!

What is it like teaching on campus with only a percentage of students on campus and all the COVID guidelines?

  • Jim Wiseman, Professor of Mathematics
    I’m teaching calculus II, probability, and the math senior seminar, all in person. Only 0-3 show up in person to each class. The biggest challenge is keeping the students on Zoom engaged; they mostly keep their video and audio off. It’s also hard to tell if they’re understanding, since I can’t see their confused looks, I have to rely on them to unmute and ask questions, which most of them won’t do. 

    But it’s a huge improvement over being just online. It’s way better to teach math with a chalkboard instead of trying to do it from my bedroom with an iPad, and it’s really nice to have even a couple students there in person. It’s scary having them there too, because I don’t want to die, but everyone seems to be taking all the procedures seriously. One thing I may keep doing in the future is lots of short group activities, to keep people engaged. The main lesson I’ve learned is that while teaching online is a crushing amount of work, and it’s way worse than doing it in person, it’s still way better than not doing it all, and I’m really grateful to everyone at the college for working so hard to make it possible.

  • Amy Lovell, Professor of Astronomy
    It is majorly weird. You learn to recognize students by their eyes and hope they will speak so I can recognize their voices. The students are great about coming in and sanitizing, prepping things and sitting apart. Going through doors one person at a time has taken adjustment. Being in large classrooms that are mostly empty (so far I've had at most 4 students attend in person at once) is also weird.

    After getting my setup at home like I wanted it, it has been weird to try to use my office again, sometimes I just go back home if I have a zoom meeting. Mostly it is less warm, less vibrant. I miss being able to hug people or have meals together in Evans. I miss seeing people smile (except the hint of smile in the eyes!), I miss the happy encounter and quick catch-up on the sidewalks or in hallways.

  • Bridget Roosa, Professor of Dance
    It is wonderful to be back on campus and while it is different, it feels completely safe.  Everyone who has returned has made a strong commitment to the safety of all and being back under these circumstances has made me appreciate our community and grateful that we can have in-person learning as a safe option. I am also amazed by the commitment of our students learning from home in a virtual environment, witnessing their successes made possible by their resilience, determination and desire to continue learning at the same pace they would in an in-person environment. As always, I am in awe of our students, but not surprised that they remain scottie strong!

Are students adjusting/adapting to dual-mode and remote learning? Has the college adjusted well to teaching/learning given all the circumstances?

  • Doug Fantz, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Dean of the College
    With regards to dual mode, I think the jury’s still out. What we have heard so far is that students who are on campus, who are able to go to the classroom, it’s been incredibly meaningful, not just for them, but for the faculty as well. We've had reports of tears being shed. I do feel that this transition back to some in-person learning will be an adjustment, and it will be emotional and powerful. We’ll rediscover the things that have been missing that we’ve sort of forgotten about (now that Zoom and virtual learning have been so routine for so long now).

What has surprised you so far (good or bad) about this semester with some students back on campus? 

  • Doug Fantz, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Associate Dean of the College
    The one thing I’ve noticed is that the feedback we’ve received from students (we’ve held town halls and sent out surveys) has been inconsistent. One line on a survey will say, “I love the breakout rooms, breakout rooms on Zoom are the best” and the next line will be, “Breakout rooms are the worst”, so balancing that is quite a challenge. Students seem to be either on one side of the spectrum or the other.

What can the college incorporate from this time into future learning?

  • Christine Cozzens, Vice President of Academic Affairs & Dean of the College
    I can see some events being done dual mode for sure. We’ve been able to involve alums and guests who otherwise would not be to participate, they can log on in another state or country and still have an Agnes Scott experience. There’s also great opportunities for internationalizing. For example, if I were to teach Global Journeys again, there’s always too many places and people I want to connect with when we’re there, but now I can do some of that from here. That would be easy to arrange, inexpensive and really supplement the students’ learning.

Agnes Scott College needs your support.

As the college continues to navigate the unforeseen challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, educating our students to become capable leaders, ready to take on the world’s most persistent and systemic challenges has become even more urgent. The college’s enduring mission remains not just relevant today, but critical given the unprecedented times we are enduring.

With additional costs in response to the consequences of the pandemic, as well as the loss of auxiliary and room and board revenue, now more than ever, gifts to the college’s most urgent funding priorities are vital to responding effectively to the present challenges we face and sustaining the college’s future. Your generous support makes an immediate impact on the education that our faculty and staff provide to students and enable the president to direct funding to where it is needed most.

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