Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the social, economic and cultural aspects of life for many individuals. As students, professors and UTSA administration attempt to navigate the challenges of online learning, one thing remains constant: the importance of fostering a sense of community. The UTSA community is comprised of a diverse group of individuals that bring different things to the table.
Students and professors have had their fair share of tough transitions to an online learning format. Zoom has become the new classroom and the central unit of engagement within most courses at UTSA. As of Fall 2020, student enrollment increased to well over 30,000 students, in which some students will take their first-ever college course. Freshman students are starting their college career in an online format, but will have to adjust to taking in-person classes in the coming semesters. Students have expressed their displeasure with online learning via Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms.
Most students have been critical of their assigned workload and believed it was more rigorous than in-person learning. On the other hand, it is plausible that professors are also overwhelmed by the online learning environment. Professors currently have to lecture courses, grade assignments and manage a crowded email like never before. Not to mention ensuring students can receive a great learning experience even if it is not ideal at this moment.
Allowing either group to be transparent about the new situations we all currently face daily can help with building UTSA’s sense of community. Continuous dialogue outlining the problems endured during the pandemic provides new ways to move forward rather than finger pointing. Open communication assists with identifying and understanding additional methods to navigate the current state of the world. Empathy should be at the helm as regardless of where we stand within the UTSA community we are all being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
UTSA’s administration should also continue to address and engage students where they mostly reside. Although UTSA’s administration worked to get its educators training sessions for virtual teaching all throughout the summer and fall semesters, things are still lagging on their approach toward students. Considering how most students opted to not return to San Antonio for the fall and spring semester due to classes being mostly online, it was crucial for UTSA to find virtual options for students to feel engaged with the UTSA community.
UTSA began hosting a variety of online community-building events in the fall semester from virtual game nights to virtual career fairs to maintain the engagement of the student body during the virtual era. Of course, there is no equal replacement for in-person UTSA staple events like Roadrunner Days, Howdy Rowdy Bash and Light the Paseo, but UTSA is showing their commitment to shifting things for the safety of their students rather than pausing all events until it is safe to resume regular activities.
However, it is imperative UTSA administration maintains a high level of engagement and outspoken support for students and faculty. Creating virtual spaces such as town halls allows students to voice their concerns with the state of the university and potential recommendations on moving forward.
Looking into the new year of a trial and error online learning experience, we face the uncertainty of the future. Shifting blame and finger pointing are counterproductive in solving the many problems COVID-19 has caused. The responsibility falls on the UTSA community’s lap to continue keeping each other motivated and safe during this unprecedented time. We should all work together to ensure we are continuously developing a foundation of community, as our very lives may depend on it.