Remote learning: An altered college experience

Students learning remotely are facing different experiences this year. Photo courtesy of unsplash.com.

SOPHIA ESTES | STAFF REPORTER | sestes@butler.edu

With COVID-19 remaining a prominent global issue, many students have chosen to fulfill their college semesters online. Butler University has given students the option of living on campus and attending some classes in person or completing their semesters online and remotely. For students who chose to go virtual, this semester has presented new and challenging obstacles.  

Tom Bennett, a sports media and finance double major, is working through the semester from his home in New Jersey this fall. Bennett explained that the 14-hour drive he has to make to the university didn’t seem worth it for a semester that he believed would be cut short. 

With his modified learning experience, Bennett said it can be hard to keep up with assignments and feel the real effects of a learning environment.

“I feel like I don’t know a bunch of stuff that’s going on,” Bennett said. “Two of my classes don’t meet unless you have questions, which is just kind of dumbfounding to me, because I’m paying all of this money for office hours. If I wanted to teach myself these classes, I would have just bought the book.” 

Jennifer Poor, associate dean for the college of liberal arts and sciences for student affairs, said in an email to The Butler Collegian that in the process of selecting a remote status for the semester, students have a somewhat limited range to choose from. She said these students have their options narrowed to fully online classes and in-person classes that have the ability to be taken remotely.

As there is a smaller pool of classes to choose from, it may lead to varied experiences for remote students, in addition to the on-campus resources they do not have physical access to. Bennett said not having access to the HRC facilities has been difficult. 

“I tore my ACL back in October… so I was using the pool out there [Butler] to kind of rehab… which the bikes are really the best thing for me because it didn’t actually hurt and I could do it whenever I wanted,” Bennett said. “But I don’t have a bike here and it’s starting to get too cold for me to use the pool. So, between the facilities that had helped me lose some weight along with the rehab stuff, I think the gym is probably one of the things I miss the most.”

On top of this disconnect in the academic realm and the lack of workout facilities like the HRC in New Jersey, Bennett said he feels that from a social and mental perspective, things have also been challenging. 

“… We ended up moving right before school started last year to a new town, so I didn’t have any friends from my town, so it was very tough socially,” Bennett said. “Not hearing from my friends a lot because text is very different than seeing each other every day…you just kind of fall into this mindset that ‘oh, they’re forgetting about me’ or ‘oh, I’m on my own now.’” 

This mental wear and tear on students is something that Counseling and Consultation services at Butler would usually be able to offer help with. However, for students completing their semesters remotely and out of state like Bennett, the HRC’s counseling services are no longer available in their traditional form. Director of Counseling and Consultation services Keith Magnus explained why. 

“Psychology is a little different than other disciplines, in that your license is state specific,” Magnus said. “So, this has always been the case. If someone is located outside of Indiana, under the law, I can’t see them for therapy…When the pandemic hit this caused a problem across the country, not only for counseling centers, but mental health systems in general…So, this has highlighted a longstanding problem, a national problem, of psychologists just not being able to practice across state lines.”

For Butler students learning remotely this semester, the traditional means of therapy typically available to them are suspended temporarily while they remain at home. However, Magnus said that Counseling and Consultation services is doing everything they can to still care for these students.

Magnus detailed a new tool called thriving campus that Counseling and Consultation services has featured on their website. The tool allows students to search for providers in their area that have been recommended or linked to counseling center representatives from the Indianapolis area.

In addition to this new tool, Magnus said another tool that is still available to remote students is help with crisis intervention through Zoom or over the phone.

“We can certainly do crisis intervention, we can consult with them, problem solve, have a conversation,” Magnus said. “We can do all of those things…I would definitely want out of state students to keep us in mind and call us and use us for all of those things. The only thing we can’t do is the ongoing treatment piece.” 

Magnus also added that the counseling center also has open office hours each week that they call “Let’s (Tele)Talk,” which can be accessed on the website and doesn’t require any paperwork or prior commitment. These office hours offer a Zoom chat with the licensed psychologists and are another resource that both out of state and in-state students can utilize.

“I want students that are struggling to know that we are a resource for them,” Magnus said. “I would hate to have students struggling and thinking that ‘oh they’re closed’ or ‘they don’t have enough room for me.’ Call us and we will figure something out, and that goes for whether you’re on campus or out of state, I’d want them to call and let us try to figure out what we can do for them.” 

While the situation continues to revolve around the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Magnus said he has a hard time foreseeing much of a change in this experience for out of state students in regard to access to therapy through the HRC.

“I’d be surprised if they got a solution in place that quickly [by next semester],” Magnus said. “I think the reason is, it requires changing state laws. So, the American Psychological Association, they, along with some of our other professional organizations, can all agree that this is a good idea. And they can do that within the next however many weeks or months. But then it takes every state to pass a different law about who can or can’t practice in their state… I think the best-case scenario might be more recognition to this problem and then more states relaxing this temporarily at least until their laws change.”

Through all of this uncharted territory though, Magnus emphasized that Counseling and Consultation services will remain a resource for students, in whatever form that ends up taking. 

The potentially challenging mental situation that has been created by the pandemic has in some ways created a bigger need for mental health help. Martha Dzwilik, interim dean of students, explained how she convenes the care and assessment group for the university, a group that deals with care reports that have been sent in about students of concern on campus. 

These care reports are outward-facing forms that allow anyone —  faculty, parents, other students —  to express concern for students on campus, so that other steps can be taken to help ensure the welfare of those students. Dzwilik noted that during this altered semester, these care reports have become even more prevalent. 

“I think we’re seeing more students being reported through that care reporting process,” Dzwilik said. “This isn’t normal, and even though everybody’s going through it, it can feel very isolating and alone if you’re in your room at home in Ohio or Maryland or Oregon, you’re not seeing your friends, you’re not getting that campus feel, I think it’s a very lonely feeling. So, I think it’s magnified for those who are away from campus.”

Bennett also added that he feels the weight of ensuring a semi-normal college experience for students does not fall on the shoulders of Butler, as he said he doesn’t think it’s physically possible to make college feel normal right now during the pandemic.

“The experience of going out to college is its own kind of breed,” Bennett said. “And doing this whole online thing is not going to college. It’s going to class. That was something my parents and I talked about going into it, they just really didn’t want me to lose out on my college experience. And I was like, if this is what it’s going to be, then this is going to be my college experience. It’s an ever-changing experience, but it is definitely not the same thing [as it was before].” 

Although things remain uncertain and sometimes frightening currently, Dzwilik, like Magnus, emphasized the constant support the university hopes to provide. 

“There’s so many more worries right now, because there’s so many more unknowns,” Dzwilik said. “And I think that’s taking a toll. As hard as this is, we are in this together, and no one is alone, and if they are feeling alone then we need to reach out and support those people, we need to be our community of care for each other… we need to focus on what we can do, and focus on the hope and the positives of this.”

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