A Student Perspective on NC State’s Online Transition

Unforeseeable conditions caused by the coronavirus have driven universities across the country to launch online courses. As a sophomore at North Carolina State University, I’ve experienced the online transition since classes resumed on March 23.

NC State has relied on Zoom, a video-chat program, for professors to continue lectures. Some tests are being proctored online by using a computer lockdown system that records students as they take tests. The tests will be available on Moodle, a program the university already uses to host class websites. Online proctors also watch students take tests to ensure students don’t cheat.

Though all classes have moved online, students won’t get tuition refunds. Partial refunds will be made for housing and meal plan expenses. The university has been transparent in this hectic time, but students still have some concerns and face real hardships in the coming weeks.

NC State prices in-person classes differently from online classes. A 9-11 credit hour in-person semester is $3,412, while 9 credit hours online is $2,131—a $1,281 difference. Many students, who haven’t taken online classes before, might not even be aware of the price difference. Yet NC State has said nothing about a partial tuition refund, even though an in-person class offers more opportunity for student engagement than an online class.

But students aren’t the only ones who think online classes aren’t as good as in-person classes. As a freshman, my advisor warned me to be cautious when taking an online class. She said they are more challenging because students don’t meet face-to-face and the workload is usually larger.

So far with online classes, the workload seems more like busywork. My assignments have stressed my learning process and shifted my focus from absorbing information to finishing and submitting the many online assignments. Pre-recorded lectures are posted on teachers’ websites and those are, in my opinion, the hardest to learn from. At least with live Zoom lectures, students can interact with professors. A pre-recorded forty-minute lecture, however, has no breaks for questions. It’s also harder to focus and process the information.

Some subjects have been much harder to transition to online classes, too. I’m a Spanish minor and, luckily, my professor has run online classes before, so she had a ready-made plan. Not all professors and students have had a smooth transition, though. “It is hard to learn a language without in-person communication and conversation back and forth between classmates and professors,” said Audrey Kuga, a sophomore studying Spanish. Online classes work better for subjects that don’t require a lot of peer interaction. In heavy-interaction classes, students can suffer from the online shift.

Instead of students being able to interact in labs for science classes, they now have to watch teaching assistants perform experiments. Channing Loftin, a junior studying human biology, said that the learning process is completely different from the traditional sessions. Labs are meant to give students hands-on experience, but Channing noted that not being able to interact lowers the class’s quality.

For students who thrive in a hands-on learning environment, the switch is quite a challenge.

Some professors seem like they are making the workload more intimidating and heavy for students with online exam proctoring. It seems like an invasion of privacy to be remotely monitored with no other option as students struggle to learn complicated subjects such as a foreign language, chemistry, or physics online. Before the coronavirus, I was already enrolled in an online class. We had never been required to download the exam proctoring system before. I don’t know why doing so is a requirement now.

Students aren’t the only ones facing problems, either. Professors are having trouble keeping students engaged and on track.

Other students have found it harder to keep up their studies without interacting face-to-face with classmates. Macey Bryant, a sophomore studying communications and public relations, says she misses the social and communicative aspects of in-person classes. Most of her classes are small and discussion-based, requiring students to give presentations and then receive feedback from their classmates. Other students studying engineering or pre-medicine have similar problems because they study in groups, working through complex math equations to teach one another.

Students aren’t the only ones facing problems, either. Professors are having trouble keeping students engaged and on track. Philosophy professor Ronald Endicott said his class attendance rates have fallen from 44 students engaging in class to only 26 showing up Zoom classes. The dynamics of Zoom can make students more passive and timid; talking and interacting become harder for professors and students. The transition into new social settings intimidates students, but it can do the same to professors, who now teach to a silent class, wondering if the students understand the lecture material. Designing an online class in those circumstances becomes trickier.

Beyond the classroom, students have had their summer plans upended by the coronavirus. Study abroad programs have been canceled, internships have disappeared, and graduating seniors’ job prospects have worsened.

I had planned to study Italian and Italian history in Florence, but NC State had to cancel the program and refund students. Other students, however, cannot simply delay a semester abroad or an internship until next year. Julia Madsen, a senior studying textile engineering, said she was very worried about finding a job after graduation. Two companies where she applied for a job have told her that they have frozen hiring. She is not the only senior worried.

Those applying to graduate schools, law schools, or medical schools also worry that schools might overlook them if their grades drop, thanks to the hasty switch to online classes.

To NC State’s credit, they have been proactive about salvaging what they can from the semester to benefit students. The administration has also made the health of students its top priority. Students have not been left in the dark by university leaders. However, online classes are not a true substitute for in-person classes. If the university would grant partial tuition refunds, students would appreciate the financial relief and the acknowledgment that the online transition is less than ideal.

Megan Zogby is a Martin Center intern.