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Meeting the Challenges- A Fall Semester Recap

Posted by Scott Weybright | December 4, 2020
By Julia Layland, CAHNRS Academic Programs

The fall 2020 semester featured unprecedented challenges: all lectures, labs, and extracurricular activities use online formats; students joke about attending ‘Zoom University;’ WSU’s new Plant Science Building officially opened, even with a COVID lockdown in effect.

A woman in medical scrubs holds two adorable small puppies, one in each hand.
Emily Welcome, with two puppies at the Skagit Valley Humane Society, where she used to work and volunteer.

But through it all, CAHNRS administration, faculty, and students remain positive and strive for success. Everyone involved is working to create a successful and encouraging environment.

“I want as positive of an experience for the students as possible,” said Rich Zack, CAHNRS associate dean of Academic Programming. “I think we are accomplishing that. Everybody is working as hard as they can to make it the best situation, given the cards that we’ve been dealt.”

Zack discussed the enthusiasm to meet the challenges of this semester and its structure.

“COVID has forced people to really think outside of the box,” Zack said. “Now we are seeing we can do things we thought wouldn’t be great, but actually aren’t that bad. It has forced a lot of individuals to look at things differently.”

Anna Warner, a professor and WSU agricultural education advisor, created a support structure for her students, and added resources for classrooms across the Northwest region. Warner and state FFA officers of six western states tackled possible solutions to frequent issues in and out of the classroom during their National FFA Convention Retreat.

“We talked about how to prepare for virtual conventions, support different situations for teachers, the different opportunities in the high school classroom, and how to best serve the people in all of these situations,” said Warner.

While exploring difficulties in adapting to the online format and creating positive structures and interactions at the retreat, Warner explained that she has worked to turn her lectures into reusable resources for her students, and how this could be utilized in future classes to aid student learning.

“By recording lectures for review, students can now go back and access assignments that can be a valuable resource,” said Warner.

Online instruction is time consuming and judging student comprehension can be difficult. In past lectures, Warner said she read non-verbal communication cues to gauge students’ comprehension of the material.

This is an issue faced by Emily Welcome, a current sophomore and women’s rowing team member at WSU. Emily said she’s experienced many of the issues Warner and other faculty have tried to prevent.

“I am having a hard time with classes, and the classes aren’t in person, so I am losing focus on my major,” said Welcome, an Animal Science/ Pre-Veterinary Medicine major. “I have accepted online classes; however, they’re not something that were built for me.”

For Welcome, the online format has also improved accessibility for resources, including student study groups, tutoring, and tools available on Blackboard.

“I have definitely used more resources to help me succeed. I have gotten better at using my computer and navigating programs on Blackboard that I didn’t use before” said Welcome.

The main advice for struggling students has been to reach out.

“Students are having to figure out what works best for them and managing their time to make their work effective,” Warner said. “Communicate with your teachers often and be very transparent about the challenges you are having. Talk to other students and find out what is working for them and try lots of options to find what is going to work best for you. Students need to advocate for themselves.”

The resonating hope for this semester is that students have been able to continue to learn and have positive and beneficial experiences.

“For students, especially, they have had to adapt to a lot of things,” Zack said. “My hope is that even though it hasn’t been perfect, the lessons they have picked up in having to adapt are also going to be a part of the educational experience.”