As students and faculty wrap up their third week of online classes and settle into their new routines, many have stories to tell about their new virtual-classroom reality. Across academic disciplines, everyone is adjusting to the demands of remote learning, from managing family tensions to keeping students engaged thousands of miles away.
Students from around the world are attending classes, sometimes at odd hours of the day. Song Eraou ’23, for example, who is now home in Kuching, Malaysia, has had to adjust her daily routine.
“What’s hard is the time difference. I have night classes now, which is weird because I am so used to having morning class,” Eraou wrote in an email to the Orient. She has also had to adjust to a different space, streaming her classes from a makeshift bedroom her parents set up so that she could quarantine away from the family upon her return from the United States.
Twelve time zones away, Nicholas Bower ’22 joins Zoom classes from his backyard in the Bahamas, complete with tropical fruit trees blooming in the background, which generates a great deal of envy amongst his classmates.
“Every time I have an individual conversation on Zoom … it’s like ‘I’m so jealous’ or ‘It’s a cold rainy day here,’” Bower said in a phone interview with the Orient.
According to Bower, he decided to do his classwork outside out of necessity. He lives with his parents and two siblings who have also returned home due to the pandemic, which has made studying indoors more difficult.
“This [is] the first time that my family and I [have been] back together since we were kids, and now we are back as fully-grown adults. So the only space left for me to claim was my garden, and so I have set up a makeshift office in my garden. It is the place I get the most privacy. I have had a conversation in pretty much every class about it,” he said.
For other students, especially those who were studying abroad this semester, online courses seem pointless. Facing difficulties with asynchronous class times and crowding at home, some students have decided online classes are not worth the effort. Aine Lawlor ’21 has opted out of the online classes offered by the program that she was enrolled in while studying abroad in Valparaiso, Chile.
“I was in class in Chile for [fewer] than two weeks and didn’t think it would be worth it or the same experience. … It is all a big bummer and I’m upset to not [study] abroad at all, but also I’m lucky to be in a position to opt-out of classes,” Lawlor wrote in an email to the Orient.
Since President Clayton Rose suggested last week that the College may not be able to bring “everyone” back to campus for the fall semester, students have begun to reckon with the possibility of continued remote learning. Deva Holliman ’23 said she finds herself unable to imagine doing an entire semester of classes online.
“I definitely think that if classes are only offered online in the fall, I will take the semester off,” she wrote in an email to the Orient. “While I’ve been very impressed by my professors’ ability to transition to remote teaching—and am so grateful to be able to finish the semester at home—I’ve begun to realize that I value my college education for [many] more reasons than the pursuit of a degree.”
These concerns have also impacted prospective Bowdoin students. In an email interview with the Orient, Juliana Vandermark, a high school senior who was recently admitted to Bowdoin, voiced the difficulty she faces while considering which school she will attend in the fall.
“Our current situation as a whole, and the prospect of the fall semester being completely online is making the college decision feel impossible … Everyone I’ve talked to at each of the schools I am considering described the ‘vibe’ on campus as one of the best parts. Suddenly a huge portion of what makes a school unique and special is hidden from the decision process,” Vandermark wrote.
Despite these concerns, students and faculty across different disciplines have found ways to adapt. In an email to the Orient, Lucia Gagliardone ’20, a dance major, expressed how the Department of Theater and Dance faced the challenge of online courses head-on.
“The theater and dance department has definitely rallied around all of us in this time and created really innovative and lovely ways to continue staying connected and practicing performance arts,” wrote Gagliardone. “In my Advanced Repertory class, we have had weekly dance classes where we all follow along with a series of warm-ups, and then our professor, [Senior Lecturer in Dance Performance] Gwyneth Jones, teaches us a phrase designed for confined spaces.”
Gagliardone has found the class to be a calming presence in the hectic reality of a global pandemic.
“It’s been really lovely moving with everyone, even though it is virtual. It helps keep the feeling of connection,” Gagliardone said.
In the history department, Professor of History Dallas Denery saw the pandemic as a learning opportunity. He added Albert Camus’s “The Plague” and an essay about what happiness means in a time of global crisis to the syllabus of his course about happiness throughout history entitled “The Good Life.”
“[The class] is about what people have thought it means to lead an excellent or meaningful life. And so if we read these different philosophers and thinkers about this topic, we might get ideas and tools for ourselves, right?” Denery said in a phone interview with the Orient. “So when COVID-19 hit, and the school went online, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try to really demonstrate to [students] that a humanities course on the good life is actually a really practical, useful course. It seemed like the obvious thing to do.”
Like Denery, other professors have embraced the challenges that come with virtual classes. In an email to the Orient, Senior Lecturer in the Classics Department Michael Nerdahl wrote that for his class, Classical Mythology, he decided to create a series of videos for his students to watch weekly.
“In creating videos, I take advantage of the format to do new things—I created a green screen, for example, to lecture in front of—and I take inspiration from what I love: music, classic movies, acting melodramatically, corny jokes, irony,” he wrote.
In many ways, Nerdahl has found the new format to be a different way of looking at the material he teaches.
“Greek Myth is violent, odd and illogical, so to come at a story from the perspective of someone who experienced it is a fun take. A blinded and bloodied Oedipus narrating and complaining about his post-Thebes life seemed more interesting and memorable than simply summarizing it. Dressing up like Daedalus and singing a Velvet Underground song made the loss of his son Icarus more poignant for me.”
Nerdahl admitted that he has begun to enjoy his new creative license, in the same way students might.
“Sometimes, though, there’s no lofty motive, [I’m] just doing things for the sake of self-entertainment,” he said. And to reassure his students: “That blood on Oedipus’s face? Ketchup.”