How are students doing with virtual learning? Dr. J. Scott Vernon gives some insight

Contributed by Grace Curtis | Junior | Journalism

Cal Poly is a few weeks into the 2020 Fall Quarter, and virtual learning is in full force due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Students have already gotten a taste of classes via zoom during spring quarter when COVID-19 first hit. Back then, it was uncertain how long this so-called “zoom university” would last. 

With no news of a vaccination and continued virtual learning mandated for winter quarter per CSU guidelines, it’s looking more and more like online learning is here to stick around for a while. So how are students doing with virtual learning? 

Dr. J. Scott Vernon is one of Cal Poly’s CAFES professors teaching leadership and agricultural communication courses. He gives some insight into what it's like to teach during COVID-19 and how his students are doing.

Student Engagement

According to Dr. Vernon, virtual student engagement isn’t the same as it is in-person. Still, he knows the value of discussion during class and is doing whatever he can to keep students participating.

“They can hide behind their computers and they’re reluctant to speak up sometimes as they would in class, but as a veteran teacher I don’t allow that,” says Dr. Vernon. “If I ask a question and everyone just sits there like a bump on a pickle, eventually I say, ‘well I’m gonna call on people and then you’ll have to respond.’”

Despite the occasional challenge to keep students engaged during class on zoom, Dr. Vernon says that students seem better now than spring quarter.

“I’ve noticed that this quarter, the students are a little more attentive and not as stressed as they were in the spring,” says Dr. Vernon.

He explains that in the spring, the initial lockdowns and lifestyle changes students had to make due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused them more stress than it does now. 

“They’re going out with their friends and doing those kinds of things in hopefully a socially responsible way, and so their attitudes and their mental health seems to be a little better than it was in the spring.”

The Value of In-person Classes

Dr. Vernon says that he thinks many students like online classes in some ways because they are able to have more control over their schedules. However, he also knows that many students don’t find the same kind of value in online classes.

“Are they really getting their money’s worth across the board?” questions Dr. Vernon. “I’m not so certain that that’s true, and I hope we don’t use this as a model going forward. I think we’ve found what we can do and that there will be some changes in higher education as a result of it, but still, the classic in-person interaction, interpersonal communication, those types of things, you know. The social part of it is still valuable.” 

Advice for Students

“The one thing that I’ve always said to them is to stay organized,” Dr. Vernon says. “Using the canvas notifications, writing things in their calendar, just being a good student like they would normally.” He emphasizes how important it is to make it a daily habit of reorganizing yourself.

Dr. Vernon also wants students to remember how important it is to manage their mental health. It’s incredibly important to get some fresh air and move around during the day, as being in front of a computer all day is not healthy. Additionally, Dr. Vernon wants students to keep an optimistic outlook on the pandemic as much as possible. He says that whether we know it or not, we are all learning new skills during this time and we should try to take advantage of that. 

“This is what happened and it happened all over the world, so how do you come out on the backside of this with some newfound motivation, newfound enthusiasm, newfound skills, and really make it work to your advantage?” says Dr. Vernon.

Click below to hear Dr. Vernon's "Monday Motivation" message to students:

Photos by Burst and Mohammad Shahhosseini on Unsplash