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Student voices: An interview with Benito Elmer on online learning

The coronavirus has taken several things away from us, especially from those of us who are still in school. Online learning has to scramble to the rescue when everyone from preschoolers to doctoral candidates is suddenly being forced to stay home. But is it working? Having everything transferred to the web has brought up unanticipated difficulties for both students and teachers. Several aspects of learning and receiving instruction have definitely been compromised in some way. That said, some things have become more convenient due to online learning. To find out how online instruction has changed the way he approaches learning, I sat down with Benito Elmer, the vice-president of  the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), and a well-respected student at Seattle Central.

AS: What do you miss about learning in face-to-face classes?

BE: Being able to get together with other students. I feel it is always easier to set up a study group with your classmates when you are able to talk to them after class about it, but I have been able to reach out to some classmates with general forum posts on Wamap (a web-based mathematics assessment and course management platform).  I hope that this will become easier as time goes on and we all become more comfortable with working online.

AS: What don’t you miss about face-to-face classes?

BE: One thing I don’t miss is the commute to school. It is one of the few perks about working from home. I can wake up early for my morning class and attend lectures while making coffee and cooking myself breakfast. 

AS: I imagine a lot of students would agree with you about that. Another thing I’m curious about is workload. Now that everything’s online, it is unsure what can be said for the amount of work we have to manage. Is it overwhelming now that you don’t have in-person classes to divide it with or is it more flexible now that you can work at your own pace?

BE: I don’t feel that the workload is bigger now that everything’s online, in fact in some ways I feel that it is smaller. This could be due to me having more time to work on school and properly managing my time. Instead of traveling to school, traveling to work, and the time that I spend at work, I have more time to work on my studies at my own pace.

AS: The pandemic is evolving every day and the future for students is uncertain. How would you feel if online learning were extended through the rest of the year? 

BE: I understand if that is the eventual conclusion, but I would miss in-person classes too much. I enjoy getting together with my fellow students for club activities and seeing my friends around the common areas. And I worry about my ability to retain the information that I am learning now. There are some classes that I feel confident in when I am doing the homework, but I worry that if I were to be given a test on it I wouldn’t do as well. I try to supplement this with studying more, but it remains a fear of mine.

AS: Sometimes, we don’t appreciate the things we have until they’re taken away. Is it possible that you took your routine and school day before quarantine for granted? 

BE: I’m not sure that I took my routine and school day for granted any more than I took for granted the ability to go to a grocery store without a mask and gloves. One thing that I did take for granted, however, was my ability to see my friends and family in person. It is nice being able to video chat, but I long to give my Mom a hug.

AS: Do you lean toward working at your own pace or working on a schedule in the actual classroom?

BE: Definitely learning in an actual school. While working at my own pace is nice, I enjoy the structure of a classroom and being able to interact with people face to face.

AS: Do you think the school has done a good job of keeping students updated about what measures they’ve been taking as well as the goings-on on campus? 

BE: I think the school has done an exceptional job rising to the challenge given the situation we are in. I had some worries when we transitioned in the middle of the winter quarter. One of my teachers halted classes completely, giving us the grade that we had when the school stopped in-person classes, and I heard stories from my friends about the struggles that they were going through. But from the start of the spring quarter, I have had nothing but good experiences with my teachers. In my experience, all of my teachers have been very helpful and available throughout the day, and there are many student support services that are still open such as the tutoring center. It is evident that the school and it’s faculty want us to succeed, and I feel that as a student I have it in me to make this quarter as productive as any other quarter I have taken at Seattle Central.

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