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Students, professors give first week of remote learning high marks

Barry McNamara
Classics professors Adrienne Hagen and Bob Simmons were among a group of Monmouth faculty members who became students earlier this month, learning more about teaching their courses online. The College began online instruction for the second half of the spring semester on March 23.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Wake up, dress up pajama pants with a nice shirt, head downstairs for breakfast and turn on the computer.

So starts a day of Monmouth College classes for Liam Meyer ’22, roughly 300 miles from campus in the kitchen of his Cedarburg, Wis., home.

Scenes fairly similar to that are happening all over the country as most colleges and universities have moved to remote online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help faculty prepare for teaching during this challenging new time, Monmouth College extended its spring break an extra seven days. The second half of the spring semester began March 23 with only a few dozen students still on campus. Most students, like Meyer, have returned to their homes.

Professors are ‘going above and beyond’

Dean of the Faculty Mark Willhardt praised his faculty colleagues for their response to a new style of teaching and for how they have continued to provide the College’s trademark personal touch despite the logistical constraints.

“I hear from students that many of our professors are going above and beyond in advising and caretaking from afar,” he said. “Students know that our faculty are in this with them, even if they sometimes stress over the work itself. They continue to appreciate the human, humane touches that our faculty are each managing daily.”

Cindy Ladner ’21
of Galesburg, Ill., said the new format hasn’t always been easy.

“I do miss being in the classroom,” she said. “I am a very visual and kinesthetic learner. So adjusting to the online setting versus a face-to-face interaction has been a challenge. I have had to work on holding myself accountable to attend any online classes, to get my work done in a timely fashion, and to give myself a routine to follow.”

Ladner praised one of her professors, David Wright, for the work he’s doing with her English 110 class.

“He’s doing an awesome job getting student feedback on how we feel with the current situation and has done a good job accommodating our needs, while still keeping us on track for the semester,” she said. “Overall, I think the teachers at Monmouth are doing a great job getting themselves as well as the students accustomed. It’s been an interesting week getting started, but I think it will get better as we give it time.”

‘Choose our own adventure’

Hadley Smithhisler ’20 of Valley City, N.D., said her introduction to women’s studies class has gone well thanks to professor Kasia Bartoszynska’s ability to shift on the fly.

“She’s created a new course plan that allows us to choose our own adventure and earn points each week by participating in discussion boards, live chat rooms, journals, quizzes or reflections,” said Smithhisler. “(Political science professor) Andre Audette has also been very supportive of students and is allowing students to work through materials on Moodle at their own pace each week.”

Professor Francisco Ángeles said there is no substitute for the immersive learning that happens inside and outside a residential college’s classroom, but he acknowledged that the first week of remote learning has gone “better than I expected.”

“I’m learning a lot, and I’m sure that when we all come back to campus next semester that I’m going to be a better instructor than I was before,” said Ángeles, who teaches three sections of Spanish 102 to a combined total of 50 students.

In particular, he’s learned more about e-resources that accompany the introductory Spanish textbook. He’s resolved to continue using those and other new tools he’s incorporated this week, such as videos and podcasts.

Ángeles was also pleased that his virtual office hours through Zoom on Wednesday attracted a dozen students with questions and concerns, much more than the number who visit his physical office in a typical day.

“They could join the session at any time,” said Ángeles. “Some only stayed three or four minutes to get a specific question answered. Two of them just wanted to say: ‘Thank you for the work you’re doing. I feel really supported by you.’”

Maintaining a routine

Ally Clay ’23 was one of 31 of the College’s Stockdale Fellows who spent the scheduled week of spring break on a service trip to Memphis, Tenn. She says she’s continued her pre-break morning routine, even though she’s back home in Jacksonville, Ill.

“I almost always get up in the morning to get myself ready for the day to keep some sort of routine,” she said “It makes me feel more productive.”

Smithhisler agreed.

“I keep the same routine and get dressed just like I would on campus,” she said. “I start class at 9 a.m. every morning and work at the kitchen table with my twin sister, who is also remotely finishing her engineering degree at Saint Louis University.”

While social distancing and shelter-in-place restraints have created an overabundance of free time for most, Clay said it’s important to not be idle.

“Good advice would be to work ahead if you can,” she said. “Stay on top of all your work instead of doing it last-minute before deadlines. I know it feels like we have all the time in the world right now, but organization will help you.”

Smithhisler, the College’s 2019 Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy, was slated to give an address to her fellow seniors at May’s commencement ceremony, which has now been canceled. The pre-law student offered a thought to consider about the revised educational landscape.

“Online learning is going very well for me because I live in a safe, comfortable house with reliable WiFi in North Dakota where coronavirus is not yet a huge threat,” said Smithhisler. “The same cannot be said for my friends that don’t have the same privileges I have.”