College during COVID: Pass/fail

By Qur’an Hansford

Our first full semester under COVID-19 is coming to an end and I honestly feel like I am in the same spot. All this pandemic has taught me is how to adjust to abnormal circumstances, not assess them and change the outcome. In my closing editorial last semester, I urged our community to stay home and recognized our yearning for the outside. An outside with no masks, an outside where we socialize and travel, convinced those days were coming soon. But those days turned into months with the assumption that “inside” meant small gatherings, beach days and church services. And indeed it did.

We are currently on month eight of the coronavirus global pandemic with no end in sight if we continue on the path we are right now.

“Across the country, the U.S. reported over 143,231 new cases on Wednesday, setting a new record one-day spike, according to CNBC’s analysis of Hopkins data. That brings the seven-day average to more than 127,400, up nearly 35% compared with a week ago. Over the past five days, the U.S. has reported a fresh record in daily new cases on three days,” Hopkins data shows.

It was not until last week that a peer informed me that the university was not offering the pass/fail option for the fall semester. My heart dropped. I did not view the pass/fail option as my scapegoat or an easy way out. It was my safety net, something to ease my mind while my semester has been turned upside down.

College students have been expressing their dismay with remote learning, Zoom classes and meticulous assignments. Back in March, an online petition on urged Rider to adopt the pass/no credit provision. The petition was signed by over 1,600 people. A common theme, one I can personally relate to, is the lack of motivation to successfully finish this semester. I have been a student all my life and my performance as a student was based heavily on that classroom environment, being able to see and interact with my professors and my peers.

Freshman English major Kate McCormick spoke about her transition enrolling in her first year of college during COVID-19.

“My experience starting school during COVID has been way different than I expected. I work really well in an in-class setting, so taking my classes online for my health and the health of my family has been a huge adjustment. I’m doing well so far, but I can see how the stress of the pandemic can have a huge impact on students’ mental health and in turn their grades.”

“My workload so far has been manageable, but taking my courses from home has made it a lot harder to set boundaries for myself in terms of academic work and doing stuff for fun,” she continued.

As a senior on their way out, the uncertainty of the pass/fail implementation adds another layer anxiety.

Senior biology major Saifu Alharazim said, “I did not think [COVID] would be this bad, it all went south. I did have to use pass or fail for my biology class, if my grade is bad I am going to use it.”

“Last semester I was getting a lot of work, now the workload is OK, but Zoom makes it hard to pay attention. I would ratherbe in-person, I do not like online because in-person class forces you to do the work. Everyday it is the same thing, wake up and go on my laptop. Pass/fail should be an option especially under these circumstances. I do not think it is fair for students, I feel like some professors go out of their way to make the classes harder. We’ll take a quiz and have 18 minutes [to answer] 22 questions and [my professor] would say it is because ‘we don’t want people to cheat’ that is not fair to us, I cannot even go back and check my answers,” said Alharazim. “[Professors] are worried about the wrong thing.”

Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Kelly Bidle recognizes that some students still struggle with remote instruction, but encourages them to take advantage of all of the academic support that has been provided by the Academic Success Center, as well as meeting with faculty during office hours.

“The [Pass/No Credit] option for the spring semester was essential for students, as the pandemic forced us into crisis teaching and learning. Both faculty and students had to quickly pivot to remote instruction and the number of issues associated with this unplanned for mode of instruction made this the right choice,” said Bidle. “Over the summer, there was a significant amount of work by the faculty, the Teaching and Learning Center staff, and our Office of Information Technology to properly plan for remote instruction in the fall. Given these facts, it was strongly felt by the academic deans and Provost that a return to normal grading for courses was appropriate.”

The March petition outlined the issues faced by both professors and students, including that some instructors are not comfortable with online courses, some students live in different time zones that make it difficult to keep up with their coursework. Some students may not have the access to essential technology used for remote instruction.

The scary part about attending school during this time is the unknown about how the virus will react to the fall and winter months.

Will the virus mutate? Will there be a vaccine in the spring?

We see individuals jump at the opportunity to return back to normalcy when in reality we will not see “normal” in the near future without any actual change. I understand the desire to perform a functioning semester like usual but we are not in usual circumstances.

We are still amidst a global pandemic that seems to be getting worse as we strive to conduct business as usual, but we need to acknowledge that we are still living in strange times that have greatly impacted our university life.

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