Students Adjust to Online Learning
By John Walker
As students have found new ways to learn — through online classes, self-taught skills, hands-on experiences, etc. — higher education has grappled with declining enrollment, financial uncertainty and localized challenges for years.
But 2020 has tossed up new hurdles for students and institutions alike, with the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest and a crippling financial recession.
To remain relevant as a modern marketing and PR professional, I’ve built my career by staying curious and trying to continuously learn through my global work experiences, travel opportunities and endeavors to enhance my skills.
In late 2018, a colleague suggested that I share my professional experience in an undergraduate classroom, and requested that I guest lecture one class. Fast-forward to 2020, and I’ve just finished my first year as a part-time instructor of business communications at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business.
Today’s undergraduate students are bright, eager, resilient and collaborative. They’ve grown up with digital devices and access to advanced tools that enable them to learn. But in the classroom, they’ve had to establish their credibility and persuade peers and instructors that they can accelerate their personal potential and contribute to the success of their classmates with effective business communications.
Classrooms go virtual
In early March, we were preparing for their final assignment — a team project in which students would have to meet frequently in-person to collaborate. The complex assignment would require significant research and discovery so that the students could recommend a new product or service that would capitalize on intercultural opportunities or overcome intercultural challenges that local businesses face. The assignment would also include a 15-minute persuasive presentation.
But then later that month, we received direction from the university that all classes would be held virtually for the remainder of the semester. Faculty, staff and students would have to navigate online-learning during the pandemic.
We were fortunate to have access to online-learning platforms and tools to make the transition seamless, and fortuitously we had already held one virtual class early in the semester to prepare the students for the real world. Considering that many professional roles are now dispersed geographically, it’s important that students learn proper in-person and virtual-meeting etiquettes.
As the remainder of the semester progressed virtually, the students proved their credibility and commitment to completing their work with strong collaboration, resilience and attention to detail, resulting in some of the best team projects I’ve ever seen.
The students not only had to pivot quickly from in-person to distance learning; they also had to complete all of their assignments with no face-to-face interaction. Their final team project was updated to focus on the pandemic, allowing them to learn about a real-time scenario and demonstrate how they would address similar issues in the future.
Students demonstrate adaptability
Knowing that their careers could be affected by the pandemic and looming recession, the students nonetheless persevered and proved that they are equipped to enter the workforce. After the pandemic is brought under control, employers will seek soft skills such as adaptability, flexibility, dependability, empathy and teamwork — all of which the students demonstrated as the semester concluded.
The virtual classroom provided students with the knowledge and experience they will need to enter and excel in the post-pandemic workforce, particularly their ability to adapt and adjust to quickly changing environments. I’m proud to have had a small influence on their futures.