CMC student panelists address pros, cons of pandemic learning
Also asked to advise board, college admin on some possible adjustments to consider come spring semester
Colorado Mountain College’s move to offer more “on-your-own-time” flex classes this fall as part of its coronavirus response plan has turned out to be a hit for some students.
Others, however, say it was harder to take college-level courses online, real-time or not, and that they look forward to being able to return to in-person classes.
CMC-Spring Valley student Cerise Cox said she lives at home and enjoyed the opportunity to take online classes during the pandemic. That helped her feel comfortable visiting her grandmother on occasion without running the risk of contracting COVID-19 from campus interactions.
“It was really nice to have that option,” Cox said during a video student panel discussion before the CMC Board of Trustees at their morning work session Tuesday.
At the same time, Cox and other students said they found that they had to study a lot more with the remote, asynchronous classes, and that they would have liked more teacher correspondence.
“A lifeline for me was the online tutoring,” Cox said. “That helped me a lot, but it was not easy to find on the (CMC) website. I think it could benefit a lot of (students).”
Out-of-state student Amanda Bryan lives in the residence hall at Spring Valley near Glenwood Springs and is wrapping up her second semester.
“I found this semester to be really difficult,” she said of living on campus but still having to take most of her classes online. “I just felt like I was staring at the screen all day. Luckily, being on campus I could do activities and clubs. But it was hard to find a balance.”
CMC this fall allowed limited residence hall capacity, and offered a mix of both synchronous (real time) and asynchronous (own time) classes. In-person classes were still offered for lab-oriented and projects-based courses, as well as those involving field studies.
Several students were invited to share their experiences and to offer advice to college leaders, as CMC looks to continue with the hybrid class offerings when the spring semester begins in January.
The online video Q&A session made it possible for students from multiple campus sites across the eight-county college district to participate — and during finals week nonetheless.
Students Dennis McFarland from Steamboat Springs and Jesse Ogden from Salida said flex classes allowed them to work full time and take classes on their own, or to take real-time evening classes that were also offered this fall.
“I’m kind of a unique case,” said McFarland, adding he also has work responsibilities at the Alpine Campus residence hall where he lives.
“Having that flex class availability was a big help,” he said.
Ogden, who is pursuing an associate’s degree in business, agreed. But he said it is more difficult for him to take certain types of classes online.
“I can’t do math solely online,” he said. “That just does not work for me.”
Some students talked about encouraging proper “Zoom etiquette” — not just students, but teachers, too.
“Instructors need to realize they are not in front of a class with a board,” said Pauline Trujillo, who also works for CMC while taking classes in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.
“Sometimes they go through the materials too fast,” she said. “You have concrete learners who can keep up with taking notes, but you have others who can’t.”
When it comes to students, Trujillo said she uses sticky notes to cover the frames of students who tend to be too distracting with their movements or background activity.
Bianca Godina is a student at CMC-Rifle pursuing an associate’s degree in communications. She also works part time for the college through its peer mentor program.
“I do struggle more with the online classes,” she said. “It’s way easier in person to have teachers present and explain things to the students.”
She agreed with Trujillo’s observation about proper etiquette when it comes to online classes.
“You’re still in a class, come on,” Godina said. “You still have to dedicate your time to that and respect the teachers.
“You’re getting a college education — act like it,” she said.
Some of the student panelists said they appreciated the free summer courses that CMC offered, and that it helped them get a leg up on completing their degrees sooner.
“It also helped me a lot to get used to online, and be ready for the fall classes,” Godina said of the summer offerings.
Mike Palumbo is studying for his bachelor’s in business administration, as well as outdoor leadership, and the free summer courses helped immensely, he said.
“Financially speaking, the free semester this summer was one of the best things an organization has ever done for me,” he said.
Enrollment numbers down
CMC Trustees also heard a report on fall enrollment and trends from Chief Operating Officer Matt Gianneschi.
While the fall semester started with similar numbers of students enrolled as the fall of 2019, that number fell off once classes started, he said.
However, fewer students — 6,612 total this fall compared to 9,502 in fall 2019 — are taking more overall credits this semester compared to last fall, Gianneschi said.
The drop in student headcount mirrors national trends, but is expected due to the impacts of the pandemic, he said.
“Nearly half of enrollment declines were among non-credit students,” he added. Those classes are typically in-person, and many were not even offered this semester.
They also tend to appeal to older students, and those declines were reflected in a significant drop in enrollment for students age 35 and older, Gianneschi said.
“Another share of declines were among high school concurrent enrollment students,” he said.
That also was to be expected, he said, since high schools this fall were more focused on converting their own courses to an online format, and students were having to adapt to that.
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A press release came out in the afternoon on Friday, Jan. 22 with details about a transition to distance learning for the entire fifth grade, including its teachers, at Carbondale Middle School (CMS).