What is Driving Students' Desire to Return to Campus?
Access to Necessities
In addition to building social connections, many students had practical reasons for wanting to return to campus. Some students need access to campus Wi-Fi to help them learn online while others, especially those living with multiple housemates or family members, were looking for quiet, private spaces where they could concentrate. In the case of one student, whose campus has not yet determined the availability of “hands-on learning” essential to completing his apprenticeship, the lack of access to experiential learning led him to defer for the year.
Attitudes Toward Online Learning
Online learning appears to highlight differences in the way students learn and their circumstances outside of school. Each student’s online learning experience in the spring semester was an important factor in their decisions about the fall. Many students expressed frustration with online learning, finding it was challenging to stay focused and felt it lacked the structure and community they needed to feel engaged and make the work meaningful for them. According to a student attending George Washington University, “For me, nothing replaces being face-to-face to understand the nuances of what the professor is saying. Facial expressions and body language are key.”
In comparison, other students, notably those who voluntarily chose virtual learning options prior to the pandemic, found online learning more palatable and sometimes preferable to in-person classes. A student at Santa Monica College appreciated online courses because she was able to better focus on coursework. She said, “I can do schoolwork on my own time, I can schedule my homework. And I can do other things, like my job.” Online learning was also praised by students who needed additional schedule flexibility for jobs or family responsibilities.
An Unclear Future
As the fall semester begins at campuses across the country, we are eager to find out whether these students’ expectations were met and whether their needs for independence, community, and engaged learning experiences were satisfied. As we write at the beginning of September, many campuses are already reeling from positive cases and reduced access to in-person classes, dining halls, libraries and recreational facilities. Many students who have already returned to campus are now learning online from their residence halls and apartments. Over the next few weeks many more students will be returning to campus. We will interview our students again and look forward to hearing more as their futures unfold.