By Charlotte Spears ’24 (she/her/hers)
In a pre-COVID world, Chemistry professor Dr. Annelise Gorensek-Benitez was not making TikToks or mailing care packages of lab equipment to her students. But like all Davidson students and faculty who are learning and teaching remotely, she had to make some changes.
Fifty percent of faculty chose not to teach classes in-person this semester, according to Jay Pfeifer, Director of Media Relations at Davidson. Dr. Gorensek-Benitez is immunocompromised and teaches her chemistry students from her home in Cornelius.
“There is no substitute for seeing students in person,” Dr. Gorensek-Benitez said. “I have learned to teach in person rather than being a remote instructor, so there certainly have been adjustments I’ve had to make. Overall it’s going pretty well, but there are certainly some challenges.”
Dr. Gorensek-Benitez, who normally incorporates six labs a semester, “overhauled” her lab curriculum. Now her students do labs in their dorm rooms with food-based dyes. “A couple weeks ago, they dyed yarn that was treated with different metals and they talked about the color changes when you used the metals as binding agents,” she said.
However, the lack of in-person interaction has led to challenges. Dr. Gorensek-Benitez had an open-door policy last year, allowing students to walk into her office frequently to talk or ask questions. Dr. Gorensek-Benitez understands she can only achieve that level of interaction with students if they are more intentional in seeking it out.
“Students were able to just pop in my office whenever my door was open and I was totally cool with that,” Dr. Gorensek-Benitez said. “I had a hard time replicating that vibe, that feeling with student hours. If you’re just walking around you can just poke your head in and say ‘hi’ but now there is an extra level of effort that has to be taken for every interaction.”
Alex Marsicovetere ‘21 decided a few days before her move-in date that she wasn’t coming back to campus this semester. Having worked with Davidson’s College Crisis Initiative, one of the most substantive data sets about college and university reopenings, Marsicovetere was able to do research on schools’ plans for the fall.
“I was able to contextualize things at Davidson,” said Marsicovetere, who is taking classes from her home in the Fort Mill Indian Land just below the South Carolina border. “I was feeling confident, actually, in the plan that Davidson had set out.” But for “familial reasons and responsibilities, [both] personal and financial,” Marsicovetere stayed home.
Two of her four classes are hybrid, meeting both in-person and online. So, for Marsicovetere, that means looking at her computer screen of her classmates meeting in person once a week.
“It’s nice to see how students and faculty are taking initiative over the pandemic,” Marsicovetere said. “It’s also neat to see the way professors are innovating and including students in the conversation. I think a big worry for me was how that integration was going to happen with students who were on campus and students who were remote.”
Meredith Iodice ‘23 is taking a Davidson art class from Baltimore, Maryland. And while the class meets online, getting access to materials that the college normally supplies would have been a challenge for Iodice. Her professor, Dr. Tyler Starr, sent her some art supplies in the mail.
Dr. Starr meets with his students through individual Zoom meetings and uses Moodle as a forum for his classes. Several of his students currently live off-campus, and he “wanted them to have art supplies for assignments that are basically the same as students on campus.” So, Dr. Starr packed boxes of supplies and sent them off to Maryland, New York and Kazakhstan..
“It had a little note and everything,” Iodice said.
Screen fatigue is another challenge of learning remotely, according to Marsicovetere. “I’m on a screen all day whether that be from class to my jobs to meetings — everything that would be in person,” she said.
Before the pandemic, Marsicovetere noted she could take a break from the screen and meet with friends or peers in-person, but now it’s “very fatiguing at times,” and taking breaks from the screen is not always an option.
For remote students, challenges extend beyond the academic realm when friends and peers all live together on campus.
“I tried to sign up for some clubs, and we are doing Zoom meetings, but it’s definitely not the same because you can’t really make good friends online,” Iodice said when speaking about the social challenges of remote learning. “You either had a big friends group freshman year, or you didn’t and you can’t really expand it that much this year.”
Georgia Morris ‘23 is immunocompromised and chose to take a leave of absence this semester. “It’s a little lonely being off campus when pretty much all of my friends are on campus. But my friends have been really considerate and make sure I stay in the loop with everything.”
Last semester, the “sadness of going home and COVID being weird” left Morris feeling unmotivated during online classes. She was not getting the “full experience of college,” so she was willing to “put things off a few months.” She plans to return in the spring, resuming courses a semester behind her class. “My friends like to make jokes about me being Davidson class of 2023 and a half,” Morris said.
Dr. Gorensek-Benitez thinks that some of the abrupt changes that students and faculty had to make to normal Davidson life during the pandemic could be permanent.
“I plan to reuse my new materials in the future, and it will shape the way I teach my course,” Dr. Gorensek-Benitez said. “Now that I’ve learned all of these new techniques, they are here to stay.”