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Perspective: STUDENTS

OU students reflect on challenges and benefits of shift to online learning

A woman standing holder a folder.

Photo Credit: Robert Hall

icon of a calendarJune 24, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Patrick Dunn

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Sierra Okoniewski felt her college experience had been upended when Oakland University shifted all classes to remote learning because of COVID-19. But, the OU student says, “I never felt in the dark.”

“This is something we’ve never faced before,” says the Romeo resident, who’s pursuing her Bachelor of Integrative Studies degree. “I was really impressed with how OU handled this. It was a matter of making split-second decisions and implementing tactics and policies in a matter of five days, and, overall, it was handled very well.”

The shift to remote learning brought many changes — some challenging and some positive — for OU students. Okoniewski says she was impressed by the level of communication she received from her professors and OU administration about the change. 

“As you can imagine, we scrambled quickly,” says Glenn McIntosh, OU’s senior vice president for student affairs and chief diversity officer. “Our faculty did a fantastic job of moving their classes from in-person to the online environment. It was a major lift.”

The change elicited mixed feelings from students. Patrick Slade, an Accelerated Second Degree (ASD) in Nursing program student at the OU Anton/Frankel Center says he’d taken online classes before and they “weren’t really [his] cup of tea.” 

Okoniewski concurs, but says she had some of her best experiences ever with online learning during her fall 2020 semester at OU.

“Most professors said, ‘Our priority is for you to get the most out of this class you can get,’” Okoniewski says. “I think they’ve done a great job.”

Slade also commends faculty and administration’s efforts to make the most of the online learning environment, but says his greatest challenge was developing the mental discipline to stay on track with his studies.

“You think you’re at home and you can do [schoolwork] on your own time, that you can sleep in or whatever,” the Rochester resident says. “That was pretty challenging. 

I just told myself this is so important and I have some goals in life and I really need to stay focused on this.”

Okoniewski and Slade each found unexpected benefits to the change as well. 

Okoniewski started a full-time job as director of catering and events at the Birmingham Athletic Club just before the fall semester started. She’d only worked part-time jobs while taking classes in the past due to scheduling conflicts, but says the flexibility of online classes made it possible for her to maintain momentum toward her degree while also advancing her career. She plans to graduate in 2022.

“That’s something that I never would have thought I’d be able to do before this semester,” she says. “I surprised myself in many ways this semester because I never would have thought that was something I could achieve.”

The upside for Slade was more personal. He says one of the “biggest drawbacks” of the situation was losing some of the camaraderie he’d built with his cohort in the first six months
of his ASD program. But the pivot to online learning gave him the opportunity to focus on a different relationship: his marriage. Slade had gotten married just before he started
the ASD program and says he and his wife expected their first 15 months as spouses to be “pretty hectic.” Instead, they found themselves converting their guest room into a
shared office.

“It’s been nice to be able to stay home and spend time with her,” says Slade, who graduated in December 2020.

McIntosh says he’s been struck by how resilient students have been throughout the challenging situation. He encourages them to stay focused on the big picture of their careers in the post-pandemic period.

“I’m thinking about that next group of leaders for our country,” he says. “They’re going to be battle-tested because of this.”

Learn more about OU’s bachelor’s and master’s degree programs offered at our locations in Clinton Township and Mount Clemens.

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