Nicole Mailhoit / Gavel Media

Finals From Home Are the End of an Online Era (For Now)

As the first remote semester in Boston College history came to a close, students found themselves facing another difficult prospect—finals from home, along with the possibility of continuing online learning in the fall.

The Gavel talked to some students about their transition to taking classes and exams online. The online transition not only changed the format of most exams, but also the process that students normally take to study during finals week.

“The transition from O’Neill Three to my dining room table definitely came as a shock,” Eduard Smith, MCAS ’23, explained, “Going to the library [at BC] had become a daily routine, it allowed me to stay focused and organized when it came to studying for my classes.” 

Studying at home came with intervening factors, which Smith described.

“There were more distractions with my younger siblings also in the house, but it encouraged me to get my work done earlier on in the day,” he said.

Students commended the hard work and flexibility of their professors for making the transition to online learning easier. 

“Quite a few of my teachers made the transition easier by changing assignments and requirements to better fit online learning for the class,” Peter Schmitz CSOM ’23 said.

While students were not prepared for the shift to online, professors were equally caught off-guard and had to quickly figure out how to best orient their classes online, whether through live Zoom meetings or prerecorded Canvas lectures. 

Even though nothing can match the academically stimulating experience of taking live classes in Fulton, Stokes, Higgins, etc., professors were just as committed to teaching.

“I feel very fortunate to have had professors that adjusted quickly to the new teaching style and reorganized the structure of their courses,” Smith added, “especially those that changed the format of final exams!” 

Some professors kept the same format online while other professors made the exams open-note or replaced them with supplemental essays and quizzes. For classes that usually use multiple choice exams to grade students, adding essays may have not only eased the adjustment process, but it could have also helped students who are strong writers to show their skills. 

While some missed studying in the cozy booths of O’Neill surrounded by the buzzing energy of other stressed-out students, other students welcomed a more focused environment at home. 

“Taking exams online was beneficial for students by giving them more time to study and be less distracted in regard to their college environment,” Brian Hwang MCAS ’20 said.

Even despite the potential benefits of studying at home, some students felt as though the fulfillment aspect of reaching the culmination of the semester was lacking.

“Taking online exams didn’t feel real or academically rewarding, [each one was] just another Canvas assignment,” Will Dooley MCAS ’22 said.

Hwang added that finding motivation to do work at home could be a challenge, especially with Netflix and the tempting distraction of Tiger King and other shows being just a click away.

“I personally feel that the workload for my classes stayed about the same as in-person learning, the only difference was the amount of focus and motivation required,” Smith reflected.

Extra motivation was definitely required if what used to be an irritating 9 a.m. course turned into an excruciating 6 a.m. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case for Schmitz.

“Going back to California meant all my classes moved three hours earlier than at BC, and I got super lucky that my earliest class, a 9 a.m., didn’t meet online ’cause that would’ve been a 6 a.m.,” Schmitz said. 

Professors had multiple pros and cons to consider when deciding to have classes live on Zoom during class time or recorded on Canvas, one of which being the time change with students now being scattered across the globe. While synchronous Zoom classes allowed classes to interact and discuss the material in a live setting, pre-recorded lectures could be more accommodating from a time perspective, allowing students to rewatch parts of the lectures on which they were confused. Some professors combined these approaches, holding both Canvas lectures and live Zoom class discussions.

Despite the challenges that arose with classes being online, students’ undeterred excellence and hard work in the face of these circumstances during the most difficult time of the semester continued to set the world aflame––albeit virtually.

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