The freshman experience with online learning

By Hanalei Potempa

Freshman students beginning their academic career at Boise State University this year have faced many challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic with classes being mainly hybrid or online. Other concerns for freshmen in an online environment is difficulty being engaged, connecting with professors and classmates and having a well rounded freshman college experience, academically and socially.

Opening a computer and clicking a link to join a virtual classroom or watching recorded online lectures provides for a very different college classroom experience than previous years. 

Gillian Nesbitt, a freshman communication major, is feeling the unease. 

[Photo of a woman with a backpack carrying books]
Photo courtesy of Element5 Digital | Unsplash

“Usually when I walk into a classroom setting there is noise and talking and everything. I only meet new people outside of the classroom, and it’s not a social atmosphere when it’s online,” Nesbitt said. 

The traditional classroom experience cannot be recreated virtually when students have to press buttons in order to be seen or heard, and communicating with classmates is restricted to messaging and small discussion groups. 

In addition to a lack of social opportunities, students with online classes share difficulties staying motivated, as well as clarifying project assignments and concepts, according to Nesbitt. Students that do not physically attend class can have trouble managing their time when they are stuck in the same environment. 

The ability to engage with professors face-to-face presents a communication barrier as well for professors and students alike. Lecturer for the English Department Lana Kuchta, who primarily teaches first-year writing courses, shares that she is worried about how students deal with material that is confusing for them.

Kuchta is worried that students will not take the time to reach out, and whether professors have the ability to efficiently assist them via email. 

“I don’t want anyone to feel like they are all alone in this experience even though it may feel like that at times,” Kuchta said. 

Some students with online classes, such as Nesbitt, share the appreciation for their communicative and helpful professors, and agree that although it will take some adjusting, they can still be academically successful with the correct mindset.

The freshman college experience is different this year with classes being online, new academic adjustments, altered socializing opportunities or the overall new environment first-year students are experiencing on a college campus. 

Noelle Foster, a freshman special education major, noted how the overall experience is unlike anything she has experienced.

“I have nothing to compare it to. This is it. This is my standard freshman experience,” Foster said. “Do I wish it looked slightly different? Yes, but I feel very fortunate because I am still able to connect with other people and feel like I am part of something bigger than myself.”

Although the experience is not ideal, and online classroom communities are difficult to create, freshmen can still feel connected to their fellow Broncos, and their Boise State community as a whole. 

For first-year students on campus, college is a whole new environment, a new world, according to Adjunct Professor Thomas Lobaugh who understands that learning experiences for new students are outside the classroom as well. 

“Just even walking across campus and seeing somebody do or say something that’s different from your old world, at some point these experiences will happen; we just don’t know what we’re missing now, ” Lobaugh said.

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