Faculty and students react to change in Mason’s academic structure
BY ALEXA TIRONI, ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
The Mason community received an email from Interim President Anne Holton detailing precautionary action regarding the spread of the COVID-19 virus on Wednesday, March 11, that included an extension of spring break by a week, as well as a switch to online class formatting — now effective through the end of the semester. Students and staff now face large structural changes and must adjust to the reality of remote working and learning.
In her university-wide email, Holton stated that the extension of spring break “will allow students and faculty to prepare for virtual alternative instruction” — and that’s what history and art history professor Sheri Huerta has been doing since.
After receiving notification about the extended break and switch to online instruction, Huerta contacted students to alert them of changes to their syllabi and to contact her with questions and concerns.
“[I’m] scheduled to take webinar training offered this week on using the Blackboard tools Kaltura and Collaborate Ultra so I can prepare for both synchronous and asynchronous instruction in an online learning environment,” Huerta said. Huerta took the training during the extended spring break period.
She continued, “I’m developing a questionnaire for my students so I can better understand their situations and potential challenges with online learning … I’m investigating teaching strategies that offer flexibility for Wi-Fi access, that create multiple avenues for communication, and that offer multiple modalities of engagement and interaction.”
For students who need learning accommodations or are concerned regarding their academic success in an online classroom, Disability Services Director Naomi Martinez-Jones stated in an email that the department is working through student and faculty questions and concerns as they arise.
“It is difficult to say what we are doing overall, as we evaluate each situation/concern case-by-case,” Martinez-Jones said.
“We are also working closely with [the] Assistive Technology Initiative on campus to make sure that all students have access to their online course,” she continued. “Disability Services is currently gathering resources to help faculty members make their courses accessible and to provide the appropriate accommodations.”
Senior psychology major Fatima Nayani gave her opinion on the switch to online learning.
“I think for some of my classes it’ll be fine, for example one of my lower level [psychology] classes has an online section so the professor can use that format, but for say my honors thesis that requires in-person meetings every week with my advisor, that will be a bit of a learning curve,” Nayani wrote in an email.
She continued, “Also, this is really disappointing for me as a graduating senior. A lot of my friends are native to the Northern Virginia area, and I’m back home in my hometown and it feels like I’m losing a lot of my college experience right near the end.”
Sophomore biology major Jackson Kair explained some apprehensions he has about an educational space online.
“This is day 12 of me being stuck in the house, and I can’t even fathom how much longer we have … I know I’ll be able to [succeed in an online format] but that was just due to the fact that I was online-schooled from ninth to eleventh grade, so I’ve got some practice,” Kair stated .
“I’ve never been able to be productive at home though, or even in my dorm room really, so that’s a little scary and [worrisome],” he continued.
Huerta expressed that she is most concerned for her student’s health in the upcoming weeks.
“I’m thinking about the health of my students and their families,” Huerta said. “I’m concerned that students will feel isolated being away from daily interactions and the [Mason] community.”
Huerta urged her students to re-establish normalcy, telling students to make a daily schedule for when they will do online coursework.
“Prepare to take notes, develop and communicate questions, and participate to the best of your ability in conversations,” Huerta explained.
Mason’s COVID-19 website, created in early March, features Mason’s plans and procedures regarding how these changes will affect academia. The site states that a revised academic calendar will be provided.
Final exams will now be held May 13-20, as the additional week of spring break will require the semester to be extended one week. Midterm grading and course registration will also be extended.