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Non-traditional students offer perspective as classes transition online

Due to the recent decision by the University of Maine System to shift courses to remote instruction, many students have felt the pressures of adapting to online courses as the UMaine community returned from spring break on Wed., March 25. Throughout their formal educations, many students have grown accustomed to in-person seminars, lecture halls filled with 200-300 students and face-to-face office hours with their mentors. Since switching to remote-learning formats, many students have voiced concerns about the expectation that they can be as productive while completing online courses.

Students have expressed their confusion and frustration through the online format of memes, with daily memes about online courses appearing on the Facebook group “UMaine Memes for Drunken Teens,” a group made by UMaine students that is unaffiliated with the university’s administrative faculty.

One image, posted by Avery Cobalt, a third-year student, features a photo of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, with the phrase “I am once again asking for you to tell me how class is going to work now.” The meme received over 300 reactions and 17 comments.

“The pass/fail option is looking good,” Cassidy Tibbetts, a third-year information systems management student, commented.

Lily McLaughlin, a first-year biology student, shared that one of her professors was actually unable to conduct his course over Zoom, the videoconferencing application that the university provides to students and faculty to facilitate the running of online courses, because he doesn’t understand how to use the technology to effectively teach a 3D design class. Instead, the professor has emailed the course objectives to students and has asked them to send in low-resolution photos of the in-progress projects, so that he is able to view the photos on his low-bandwidth internet connection.

However, graduating students Annabelle Osborne and Olivia Bradstreet, who both completed non-traditional models of schooling throughout their primary and high school years, seek to offer students words of encouragement as they adapt to this non-traditional method of learning.

Osborne, a graduating journalism student, and Bradstreet, a graduating studio art student, both completed a self-taught schedule throughout their high school years and noted that a key part of being successful with self-taught learning is to focus on aspects of the content that interest you.

“You have to embrace what actually interests you, which can be difficult when we’ve all been taught, to varying degrees, that education is tied to an authority. If you’re interested in a subject, even in a small way, embrace it as much as you can,” Bradstreet said. “I think another main thing is to consistently recommit to your education goal and staying connected to the ‘why’ of what you’re studying.”

Osborne mirrored this sentiment, noting that it is crucial to find an aspect of the content that sparks your interest in order to stay motivated to teach yourself about it.

“Find something that fascinates you. Even if the class or subject isn’t interesting, there [must] be something that piques your curiosity and will help drive you to be more engaged,” Osborne advised.

Both young women come from a non-traditional learning background, where they were encouraged to learn about the world through curiosity, rather than through a structured system of objectives that many students experience throughout their educational careers. This encouraged them to explore more of the topics that they liked, but also served as a foil when they encountered subjects that were less instinctive. In Osborne’s case, she struggled with math and re-took the math section of the GED exam five times to attain a satisfactory score.

“If you aren’t able to manage your time well, then you are the only one holding yourself accountable,” Osborne noted, urging her peers to continually work on constructive goal-setting for themselves while they are working from their apartments and homes.

Bradstreet also noted that, because of her background, which shied away from intertwining education with authority figures, as she has gone through traditional courses she has been well equipped to stand up for herself. She has advocated that her peers work to stand up for themselves and their academic and mental needs as they adjust to the remote system of learning.

“Feeling comfortable day one as a freshman speaking to older adults, or adults who have a title of authority attached to them is something that has really benefited me through college. This has allowed me to ask a lot of questions and advocate for myself as needed as well as help develop solid working relationships with professors,” Bradstreet said. “Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself.”

Bradstreet added that this current situation is a high-stress situation for many and that she feels as though it is acceptable to be more forgiving with your schedule as you figure out how to adjust to online courses.

“You have to be confident in setting your own limits and routines and trust that you can take care of yourself,” Bradstreet said. “Your daily routine doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s, it’s all about assisting yourself through this time.”

As students adjust to remote courses, Vice President of Student Life and Inclusive Excellence and Dean of Students Robert Dana encourages the UMaine community to continue their support for each other in these trying times and has commended the community on the support that UMaine students and faculty have shown for one another in light of recent events. Dana noted that students can call the Office of Student Life at 207-581-1406 or the University of Maine System information line at 207-581-2681 for inquiries related to the situation caused by COVID-19.

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