With Connecticut’s state colleges and universities’ classes conducted mostly online for the 2020-21 school year, community college students gained time by not commuting, but lost the comradery, external motivation and personal connections that grow out of in-person learning. Students’ personalities, learning style and life demands influenced how well they adapted to online learning. Students at Capital and Manchester Community Colleges reflect what research shows – some students prefer online learning and others do worse. No matter what support systems CCC and MCC set up, some students need to be in a physical classroom to learn.
Stefan Hall is the president of the MCC student body, has a strong GPA and plans to transfer to UConn after the spring semester to continue studying accounting and business administration with the goal of becoming a certified public accountant. The Windsor resident reduced his load to three courses in the fall of 2020 and two courses this spring.
He needs external forces to keep him motivated, he says. He found his finance class especially challenging, despite his professor’s choice to set up a Zoom class so he could see his students’ faces, Hall says. “We were able to ask questions. He was very responsive. He made sure that if a question was asked, the question was answered, even if we ran over the class time.”
But without his peers around, he felt less motivated to do the independent work of studying, reading and writing. “I find it difficult because it’s just me, by myself, in a room with a book,” he says. “I find myself, when working on the computer, drifting to the internet and social media. I’ll click and there goes an hour. At home, I’d rather be reading a book or talking to my brother than in class.” When campus was open, he says, he had no trouble attending two classes a day and carrying a four- or five-class workload while also volunteering with student government and working on campus.
On the other hand, Nyah Peaks, 18, completed her first semester at MCC and found she enjoyed online learning. The East Hartford resident babysits for nieces and nephews, so she appreciated the ability to take classes around her schedule. Professors posted discussion questions which students were required to reply to. Students could schedule a time to ask questions or receive tutoring help. A criminal justice major, she says she could read books online through the library’s website and have textbooks mailed to her.
Peaks credits her experience as a Great Path Academy high school student, on the MCC campus, with easing her transition to college. “If you went to Great Path, you could take college courses,” she says. “It helped me feel more calm about entering college.”
Rachel Cruz, of Middletown, a student at Capital studying to become a radiologist technician, had mixed feelings about online learning. On the one hand, she was able to attend class from the hospital bed right before her baby was delivered by C-section in November. But on the other hand, it has its challenges.
The professor teaching one of her courses has done it for so many years, she says, that sometimes the speed at which he delivers his online lectures is too fast for her. If students were in person, he might see their confused faces or raised hands more readily. She was still able to go to the campus for her lab work and to Manchester Memorial Hospital for clinicals, she says. The mother of three is eager to finish her education, so she plans to take three classes during the spring semester, as well as her clinical requirements. She’s motivated enough to do whatever it takes, adding, “If I’m struggling, I’m going to ask for help.”