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To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the University of Michigan’s world upside down would be an understatement. The recent outbreak has shifted all classes to an online format, and sent many students home to finish out the semester there.
As an English major currently enrolled in three English classes, seeing how each instructor has transitioned to online has been interesting. I think it’s safe to say that, based on experience, many English classes are discussion based. Reading a piece and hashing it out with classmates is one of my favorite things about my major. My peers have so many unique and important insights about what we’ve read, and it has helped develop my skills as a reader, writer, and thinker. So when the University released a statement that all classes will be moving online, I was concerned and also curious about how this would work with many of my classes.
Each of my three English classes went with a different method of online learning. The difference has been apparent, but not necessarily in a negative way. I would still prefer that the Ann Arbor campus was running business as usual, but this online method of teaching is helping me understand how I learn, and what I can gain from this type of learning.
My 18th-century British satire course, where we read satirical plays and poems, is solely determining our learning based on our interpretation of the writing by responding to our peers in a discussion board. There is no lecturing from the professor, but the banter between peers on this discussion board, and reading a multitude of responses to the question asked, has forced me to internalize the questions and responses. While it is a different setting than usual, the flexibility of the posts has allowed me to really pay attention to what my peers have written before I respond — something I would not have otherwise done to this extent during an in-class discussion.
My class about Midwestern literature is mixing posts about our readings, which mostly consist of novels and poetry, and live video chat discussions. The posts are done after reading our professor’s thoughts on the assigned piece, writing our responses live on a Google Doc, reading our classmates’ responses, and responding to those that caught our eye. I found this method incredibly helpful in understanding the assigned reading on a deeper level and using my peers’ responses to further develop my thoughts about the assignment. This class had previously been heavy discussion-based, where our lecturer encouraged us to challenge our thoughts, ideas, and each other — something I feared would be lost when transitioning to online. However, the time to free-write, read what our peers think, and respond has been incredibly beneficial in gaining all interpretations of the reading. While I love in-person discussion where one can banter with those around them, I have found that with the Google Doc I gain a more similar than expected experience.
My English course on digital publishing has always been solely discussion-based inside the classroom and is less traditional than my other courses. The method of learning for this class is video chatting. The class is very small, making this method easier had it been a larger class. I have found that this form does not feel any different than being in person. There are still opportunities to speak up, discuss, and throw out ideas. The circumstance of having so few students has made this possible, and I feel that I am still gaining the same experience as when the class was face to face.
I think the English department’s ability to transition to this online format is easier than other majors — such as those that require labs or university-provided equipment like art or film classes. The ability to write out our thoughts for our professors and peers, and gain similar feedback if we had spoken it in a class, is helpful to many during this period of adjustment. There are some pros to online formats, such as everyone having a chance to participate and the ability to sort out thoughts on his/her own time. However, the physicality of being inside a classroom surrounded by like-minded students and a passionate professor is something that cannot quite be matched online.
While my three English courses range in methods of online learning, I have been able to challenge myself during these different experiences. Each method offers something different and has allowed me to internalize the teachings on a different level, and sometimes an even deeper one. Of course, especially as a senior, I wish that I could remain inside the classroom my last six weeks of college, but in this unavoidable circumstance, I am embracing the challenges that come with an online learning platform to the best of my abilities.