On January 21, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 within the US was confirmed. During the first few days of the University of Illinois spring break, it was announced that all courses would transition to online-only learning by March 23, 2020. Then, Governor J. B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order through at least April 7, 2020, which has since been extended through the end of May.
This transition to full online education applies to all three University campuses, in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield, impacting over 44,000 students and over 10,000 academic and administrative staff members.
Since the ongoing pandemic swept across the world, day-to-day life as we know it has changed drastically. Even menial tasks, such as going to the grocery store or post office, have been altered. What’s more, mental health and financial issues are contributing their own burdens; college students are no exception.
“The summer jobs my parents and I had gotten were canceled, so we don’t know how we’re going to pay property taxes in the fall; we might have to take out money,” said Audrey Baker, a U of I sophomore. Baker disclosed, “if school is online in the fall, I might drop to save money.”
Baker further explained how her parents are teachers and already face a limited income. Consequently, taking away what they earn during the summer can be detrimental to their family as a whole. Taking classes at a local community college this fall may be the only solution Baker has for the unforeseeable future.
Contributing to the stress students are facing, transitioning online for certain courses and labs has been problematic. There are physical components that were originally needed for successful completion and understanding of the labs. Additionally, resources such as university libraries are closed, affecting the ability to access quality sources and a better sense of understanding of the materials.
“I am a history education major who doesn’t have access to the library during a research seminar class,” said Caroline Morales, a U of I junior. “Also, I can’t complete my COTE [Council on Teacher Education] early education hours for my teaching certificate because the high schools are closed.”
Morales explained that due to COVID-19, the hours needed for completing her teaching certificate, which is an imperative for her, have been reduced. However, some students need to finish those hours next semester, along with completing the regularly mandated courses. This may not be possible if in-person instruction is canceled for the fall semester as well.
Additionally, Morales elaborated that she and her fellow students are now practicing theoretical teaching, making lesson plans and writing reflections on them without the ability to teach them in person. The learning practices and demonstrative procedures are being delivered by never-before-seen methods.
Professors, in particular, are experiencing the challenges of teaching online rather than in person. Many, if not most, had no coursework or materials online in preparation for an event like the COVID-19 crisis. Patrick Vargas, a professor in the College of Media, was one of the few who had online lectures prepared.
“I was very fortunate, because in 2017-18 I recorded a large set of research methods lectures (with a lot of help from CITL [Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning]) to use in an online course for another program,” said Vargas, “I was able to use many of these lectures for Advertising 281, so my transition to online instruction was quite easy. Had I not recorded those lectures a few years back, things would have been far more difficult.”
The normal on-campus routine that students and faculty had been accustomed to has drastically changed. The new normal has revealed itself as bound by social distancing and quarantine rules. Every individual is feeling isolated in one way or another. As a member of the Illinois community, it is imperative to remain positive in the face of the ongoing crisis. Thus, the past we remember can instead be our future.
Tristan Suellentrop is a junior at the University of Illinois, pursuing a degree in Agricultural Communications. She was born in Kansas and raised in Illinois and Singapore. Living abroad curated a passion for traveling, the arts and writing.
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