When Weber State University moved to a virtual format in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, major adjustments had to be made to keep the campus running. This included making adjustments to the class delivery options for fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters.
Prior to fall 2020, WSU only offered standard face-to-face classes and entirely online classes. The pandemic spurred the creation of “virtual” class meetings held only through Zoom, and “flex” meetings held by a combination of in-person and through Zoom.
Fall 2020 enrollment showed 30.8% of all students in virtually formatted classes and only 10.2% of students in a full face-to-face class. In 2020, WSU used over 900,000 hours of Zoom for classes, meetings and events.
In most cases, there was a mix of love, hate and tolerance. Some of the things students addressed were the ease of one-on-one meetings with professors via Zoom and the challenge of figuring some things out on their own.
Isaac Bravo, a finance major, had always taken in-person classes prior to the pandemic.
“I believe the interactions you have with teachers and students inside the actual classroom are an integral part of the learning experience,” Bravo said.
Despite this belief, Bravo found good options in virtual classes and Zoom meetings.
“Most of my professors have made the transition very smooth and are extremely driven to provide the best learning environment possible,” Bravo said.
Bravo said there are challenges with technology, noting an experience he had when trying to give a presentation over Zoom. During his presentation time, the internet at his house disconnected twice, interrupting his presentation and resulting in him having to leave the class meeting and present another day.
“My experience has mostly been positive, but I’ll probably go back to in-person classes when that option becomes available, because I am more focused and engaged in an actual classroom setting,” Bravo said.
Kimberly Wright, an interior design and technology major, said she loves virtual learning and that “you’d have to physically drag me back to in-person classes.”
Wright was a student who commonly took online classes prior to the pandemic, with only a few of her classes requiring a physical, face-to-face setting.
“I don’t think any of my professors thought they could teach all of their stuff online, and now that they’re being forced to, they might have opened their minds to the possibilities a little more,” Wright said.
She’s grateful her laptop was already set up with the programs she needed before classes moved online last spring. She isn’t convinced virtual classes are going to be the next big thing going forward after the pandemic, but she does think that there will be an increase in online and virtual course offerings.
Haylee Short, a zoology major studying to become a physician’s assistant, had a chemistry lab on campus during fall semester and the rest of her classes online.
“I had never taken online classes before because I knew it would be a much harder way for me to learn,” Short said. “When the pandemic is over, I fully intend to go back to all face-to-face.”
Short talked about how her major is very hands-on and there is a lot of work in labs. She said it has been a challenge this semester being away from campus and having to do a lot of learning on her own.
“I think Zoom is a great way to communicate with my professors, but it’s been much harder to connect with my peers and form study groups to help each other,” Short said.
Short said she felt like fall semester went much more smoothly than the previous spring semester. She said she would like to continue using virtual options for meetings with professors but doesn’t want to do virtual classes ever again in the future.
Marcus Garong, a health administrative services student, has mixed feelings about virtual classes.
“I want the virtual option to continue into the future because there are several classes that I can take online and add to my schedule while spending less time on campus,” Garong said.
Though he wants virtual options to continue, Garong had a hard time adapting to virtual classes to begin with. At the beginning of fall semester, he made mistakes such as buying the wrong book and completing the wrong week’s assignment. He said he could’ve avoided those mistakes, had the classes been in-person.
Garong said technology helps him get into contact with people who can answer his questions, but that he has still struggled to find help for classes that are online.
Despite everything, Garong said he has really enjoyed his Zoom meetings, and in the future, he plans to take a mix of face-to-face and virtual classes.
The adjustment to Zoom has affected professors just as much as students. Professors have had to put in a lot of extra work in the shift to virtual classes, and the work is ongoing as they strive to provide the best learning environment possible.
Leslie Howerton, a professor in the communication department, had a hard time moving everything online with such short notice in March. She said a lot of what she’s doing now is still trial and error, and she is continually updating her classes to try and provide the best experience for all her students.
Howerton said one of the hardest things is student engagement during Zoom classes.
“My teaching style is very much about question asking. I like to ask my students questions and I want to spark discussions,” Howerton said. “Zoom has made it more challenging because people don’t want to interrupt or have a hard time knowing when to comment.”
Even with the challenges, Howerton believes that all students can be successful.
“It takes a little more self-motivation from students, but I think anyone who’s willing to try will find something that works or them,” she said.
Daniel Hubler, a professor in the child and family studies department, had taught many online classes in the past. He said the move to virtual was difficult, but he feels like the virtual format of classes has helped him feel connected with students, even when it isn’t face-to-face.
“It has definitely forced us to focus more on improving our online content quality,” Hubler said. “I feel that many of my classes have improved in structure because of the efforts to make it better for students online.”
Hubler is planning to incorporate some virtual formatting in his future classes, especially more optional Zoom meetings for online classes. He believes that virtual meetings and learning will be a beneficial tool.
“I hope this becomes an opportunity for us to increase our reach and to help more people accomplish their academic and professional goals,” he said.