The Return to In-Person Learning

TORCH PHOTO/ Sara Kiernan

TORCH PHOTO/ Sara Kiernan

Last year, COVID-19 was the reason students were learning virtually. This year there is a stark difference. While the pandemic continues to ravage the nation, almost all St. John’s students are back on campus for the fall semester thanks to mandatory vaccination statuses. Very few students have fully remote schedules this year. Some students are enrolled in a hybrid mix of in-person and online classes, while others have only in-person classes. 

When I walked around campus last year, I was lucky to see ten students on campus. I now easily spot hundreds of students making their way to class and other activities on campus every day. It is pleasant and refreshing to walk around campus, see other students and explore, an experience that was lacking my freshman year because of the pandemic.

The difference between being behind a laptop and sitting in a seat in a classroom is severe. Seeing other students in person makes it feel like an actual college experience. Most zoom classes were full of blank screens and solely the sound of a professor lecturing. Online learning feels like robotic motions and doesn’t simulate in-person learning accurately. In a classroom, a professor can directly answer any questions or concerns regarding the course immediately. Most importantly, a professor can recognize you by your face instead of grouping you with countless other names on blank screens. Online learning is time-consuming and often makes it tough to reach a professor after class. It is also simpler to connect with other students and build a rapport when seeing them in person versus online. 

One negative aspect of being back on campus is the jarring shift to in-person learning. It is difficult to acclimate to the school environment again after a year of online learning. Socializing seems to have escaped me as I find it harder and more awkward to communicate with my peers while wearing a mask. When participating in class, I have to raise my voice constantly so the professor can hear me through the mask. However, I still prefer in-person learning because it brings normality back to school. 

Masks are required in campus buildings and everyone that I have seen abides by those rules. Wearing masks on campus is reminiscent of last year. Social distancing, however, feels like something of the past as students eat lunch together, attend classes and walk through crowds. I occasionally feel overwhelmed by crowds, especially with the spread of the delta variant, because I am so used to social distancing. Ever since I got vaccinated and most everyone I know did, I am more comfortable with groups of people. Even with the vaccines, the fear of the pandemic is still in the air. However, this is the new normal we have become acquainted with after the last two years of the pandemic.