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The end of snow days: Student and faculty reactions to a winter of online learning

UMKC experienced its first round of weather-based campus closures for the year last month. While the campus was closed, classes were not. (UMKC)

UMKC experienced its first round of weather-based campus closures for the year last month. While the campus was closed, classes were not. Instead, UMKC announced for three consecutive days that students and faculty would continue with remote working and learning as per normal. 

Such a shift signals a wider change that affects both students and teachers. The spread of remote learning means classes won’t be cancelled, and the list of reasons for missing a lecture becomes ever shorter. 

For students like senior Ellie Reiber, this shift has been almost completely positive. Remote learning means she has only missed one class this year, and that was due to a cancellation by a professor. 

“I don’t have to worry about missing a bunch of material if I get snowed in anymore,” she said. “Now no one has to feel the need to force themselves to try to drive to school in terrible weather out of fear of missing classes.” 

Reiber was quick to clarify that her feelings were tempered by a history of experience with remote learning. She has been taking online classes since before she came to UMKC, and already felt comfortable with them before remote learning became more prevalent.

“Some people might have trouble making the switch if they’re used to nothing but in-person classes,” she said. 

Some professors are less enthusiastic about this switch than their students. Dr. Henrietta Rix Wood, a teaching professor in the Honors College, has found remote learning more stressful than helpful. 

Like Reiber, Dr. Wood hasn’t had to cancel a single one of her classes. But this doesn’t mean she’s been able to include all the coursework she wants. 

“In the last year, I have adapted my in-person, seminar-style writing, research and critical thinking classes for Zoom, but it is challenging to try to replicate the teaching and learning experience of face-to-face classes in synchronous online sessions,” Wood said. “I have had to forgo class activities, such as doing research at Kansas City sites, because we could not meet in person.” 

Dr. Wood has also struggled with maintaining in-person attendance after a semester of exclusively remote learning. This semester she teaches primarily in-person classes and allows absences only “if students are sick, in quarantine, or have problems caused by the pandemic.”  

But some students, she said, don’t abide by these requirements. Instead, they request to remotely attend synchronous lectures for reasons unrelated to the pandemic. 

These rapid and sometimes unexpected switches between in-person and online teaching can become stressful. 

“Altering plans and assignments, especially on short notice, is stressful for both instructors and students,” said Dr. Wood. 

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