NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Every Tuesday at 9:15 a.m., Olivia Gaspar signs in to her Trends in Health Care and Delivery class through BigBlueButton on Canvas.
To ensure the Rutgers nursing major and her classmates are paying attention during the virtual class - not just signing on to the lecture and walking away to do laundry or make breakfast - interactive polls are taken every 15 to 30 minutes.
“In the beginning, it was really hard because nobody knew what we were doing, but now it’s a lot easier because we’re all kind of getting in the rhythm of things,” said Gaspar, a freshman.
It’s been a new reality for the overwhelming majority of the 70,000 or so Rutgers students when the school first announced it was moving to online course instruction on March 11. To exercise social distancing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state university has kept most of its students off campus since.
Now that the university has announced that it will continue remote instruction through the end of the summer, some of the students that TAPinto New Brunswick spoke to about their online course instruction have felt little or no drop-off in the quality of their educations.
Some students said it was easy to adapt to remote education and feel they are being challenged every bit as much as they would have had they been sitting in Scott Hall or the SCILS Building. They applaud that the university has pulled off the Herculean feat of moving thousands of courses online on short notice in the middle of a health crisis.
According to a university spokesperson, the use of learning management systems such as Canvas and Blackboard and tools for video streaming, collaboration and communication has increased exponentially since the university moved to remote instruction. For example, nearly 274,000 minutes of video are viewed daily through the systems, six times the number of minutes viewed at the start of March before remote instruction began.
“Our faculty have done an outstanding job creatively converting their courses to remote instruction in a short time, with the help and guidance of knowledgeable technology and distance learning professionals at Rutgers,” the university spokesperson said. “More than 8,000 course sections are being taught remotely at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.
“Our students are engaging with their coursework and instructors, and are adapting with resilience to complete the semester while dealing with the disappointment of missing friends and life on campus.”
They’re students like Vikas Matta, a junior finance and business analytics.
“The quality of education is still the same,” Matta said. “Rutgers has been pretty good with us. A lot of the professors are doing their best to make sure we understand the material correctly, and they’re taking the stress out with the new pass/fail option.”
The pass/fail option was introduced March 20 to give Rutgers undergraduate students the option to change one or more courses from letter grading to pass/no credit grading by May 22.
About half of the students that TAPinto New Brunswick interviewed said they appreciate the school’s efforts, but there’s no substitute for in-classroom learning.
“I feel that video chatting does not provide quality education up to par with what I would get in the classroom,” said Samantha Cheng, a junior studying computer science. “I don't think professors had much training or had much preparation to hold classes through video chatting. They may not have the equipment, such as a microphone, to provide consistent speaking volume. Sometimes, the voice gets softer for some reason and I can't hear what they're saying.”
Other students, such as Joseph Unkel, a senior in the five-year teacher education program for a master’s degree in social studies education (K-12), say that online instruction is an open invitation for many students to cut corners.
“My education is going to suffer because anyone can make up a random thing if you don’t do the reading assignments,” he said. “You can easily pull open the textbook to a random page. You can always keep your camera off and not interact. You can always play technical difficulties. [It’s] definitely not the same education quality.”
Junior math major Aldo Aguayo said several of his coursemates apparently used Chegg on at least one test. Opponents of the educational technology company say it does the homework and takes the tests for students – and apparently one of Aguayo’s professors has taken notice.
“When I got my midterm score back, a professor made a big deal because I think 25 people had used Chegg or something. He basically said 25 people have gotten zeros,” Aguayo said.
None of the students interviewed by TAPinto New Brunswick blamed the school for closing and all agreed that it probably helped mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the long run.
Some looked at the shift to remote learning philosophically and feel students will eventually make peace with their new educational reality.
“This has been something that’s different for everybody, and everybody is still adjusting,” Aguayo said. “There’s still a whole semester left, but I think by that point, a lot of people will get the rhythm and know what they’re doing, and I feel like professors will figure everything out.
“Obviously, this isn’t what anyone necessarily wanted, but this is the reality of things. I think just making the most of it is the most important thing we can do.”