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Ohio State University at Mansfield student Julia Robinson and her son Benjamin use Zoom to video chat with disability specialist Michelle McGregor. Robinson is doing social work field work from home with students with food insecurities.

Editor's Note: This ongoing thrive series looks at how students on college campuses are innovating, overcoming challenges and living healthy lives.

ONTARIO — As universities across the country move classes online, students adjust to a different style of learning.

Colleges began to make this switch in early March as COVID-19 continued to spread.

Almost three hundred colleges and universities in the US have canceled or postponed in-person classes. Most have switched to online learning for the remainder of the semester.

The Ohio State University is one of those schools. President Michael Drake announced the transition to virtual learning on Monday, March 9. 

OSU Mansfield

OSU Mansfield students haven't returned to campus since the transition to virtual learning in early March. Now, looking down from Ovalwood Hall, the once bustling campus looks more like a ghost town. 

Sara Young-Smith, a social work freshman at The Ohio State University Mansfield campus, said her first reaction to this news was gratitude.

“I was so thankful that OSU was being proactive in the prevention of spreading COVID-19,” Young-Smith said. “On the contrary, I knew for many of us that missing out on face-to-face interaction was going to be difficult.”

After getting through the first week of online courses, Young-Smith said her classes have been “as smooth as can be.”

Even though Young-Smith said she thrives from face-to-face interactions with others, using video-conferencing platforms like Zoom have allowed her and her classmates to connect on a more personal level, sharing their homes and beloved pets with one another. 

Sara Young-Smith

Freshman social work major at OSU Mansfield, Sara Young-Smith and her dog, Kona.  

Young-Smith even said one of her classmates has been doing sit-ups during class. 

Director and Dean of OSU Mansfield, Norman Jones, shared a similar experience. 

“One of the heartwarming results of having staff meetings online is that we’re all getting glimpses inside each other’s homes and learning more about each other in new ways” Jones said.

On March 23 - the first day of virtual learning - The Ohio State University hosted 8,000 Zoom sessions, according to Jones.

“We are still a thriving campus even though we’re not physically together right now,” he said. “I met with about 30 students today for a Zoom seminar, and we had such a rich conversation—I’m so inspired by our students.”

Jones said that although the school was up to the challenge, with robust offices like the Office of Distance Education and e-Learning and the Office of the Chief Information Officer, spring break was extended to make sure faculty and professors were ready to start strong when classes resumed.

“Students, faculty and staff have shown inspiring dedication, creativity and flexibility in adjusting to the university’s virtual format for teaching and learning this semester,” he said. 

However, many obstacles still stand in the way of this transition and many students and professors have worries. 

Young-Smith said that even though online platforms like Canvas and Zoom make it possible for interaction between professors and classmates, it requires more energy to learn and understand the course content.

In order to combat the cycle of redundancy, Young-Smith studies in different parts of her home for each class, and even burns different scented candles per subject. 

“I also make sure that I have on my shoes while studying so I’m less likely to put my feet up on furniture to relax,” she said. 

Ross Gerwig, a political science sophomore at OSU Mansfield, had a much different reaction to the news than Young-Smith.

“My initial reaction was pure annoyance,” Gerwig said. “Yes, I’ve done a few hybrids but like, all my classes? Doing one or two is fine, but not all.”

Ross Gerwig zoom class

Sophomore at OSU Mansfield, Ross Gerwig was initially alarmed at the news to move all college courses online. Like many other students, Gerwig is now using Zoom to maintain interaction with his professors and peers. 

Not having a dedicated class time has given students the ability to pick when they’d like to focus on classwork. However, the flexibility can lead to students feeling overwhelmed and possibly unmotivated. 

Gerwig said deciding when to sit down and focus on his school work has been a challenge. He breaks up homework into medium-sized chunks to help.

Certain classes will be more difficult than others to transfer online. Labs, for example, typically require equipment not found in the average student's home. All students also learn differently, and visual learners can see this change as more of an obstacle than others.

“I am very worried about math. It’s been difficult not being able to ask right away when I don’t understand something,” Gerwig said. “I’ve been able to figure things out. But it’s a lot slower.”

Jones said each student is experiencing a different level of stress, but all are working hard to make the best of their situation. He also said OSU is working on finding new ways to celebrate students’ many achievements online.

“We’re deeply grateful to the members of our community who are on the front lines during this challenging time, including health professionals, public safety employees and staff providing other essential services,” Jones said. “We appreciate all they are doing to keep our communities safe.”

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