When the pandemic forced schools and universities to close across the country this past spring, many turned to distance learning in order to salvage the remainder of the semester for students. NCTA members worked with school districts and colleges across their footprints to help get as many students as possible connected, and teachers and students alike had to adapt to this new learning experience. And while there is no substitute for the benefits that come from in-person learning in schools, there is no denying that a high-speed broadband connection can open up opportunities for students to continue their classroom learning, socialize with their teachers and peers, and pursue their goals.
As a lot of schools prepare for distance learning once again this fall, and cable ISPs continue their work to support America's students, an NCTA intern offers his reflection on what it was like for him to complete his college semester online, and later on, his summer internship. In a time of social distancing, first-person accounts like these can help to offer perspective as we prepare to enter a new school year of remote learning experiences and challenges.
My name is Chase Campbell, and I'm a 21-year-old rising senior at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. Like most college students across the country, I finished my junior year this past spring as a graduate of "Zoom University!" Needless to say, coming home to complete the semester online was very hard. Prior to this transition, I juggled a lot of leadership responsibilities on campus in addition to my academics. I missed attending in-person meetings and events, and talking to multiple people a day. Self-discipline was also a challenge because going to class and being engaged was what had helped me to thrive academically. I guess it’s like the saying goes, "you never know what you have until it’s gone," right?
But, things got better for me as the semester came to a close. I was able to stay connected to my peers and friends through social media, text messages, and FaceTime. And to keep in contact with my professors, I used Zoom to dial in for online office hours. An unexpected perk that came with this was that professors were much easier to get a hold of since online office hours allowed multiple students to be on a call at once. A lot of my questions were answered during these online meetings.
Another unexpected positive that came out of this were recorded lectures. When professors recorded their lectures for later viewing, I was able to learn the material and complete assignments on my own time. (In person, sometimes professors go over the lecture presentations faster than I can write notes.) I could also refer back to the recordings to find answers to questions and utilize online office hours to raise any additional questions I had.
I also appreciated the efforts that all of my professors put into ensuring that students prioritize their well-being over academics. Their main concern was making the rest of the semester as stress-free as possible for students since the pandemic caused a lot of troubles outside of school. The school provided students with ways to stay connected virtually to each other and to stay informed about the pandemic. I actually had the opportunity to participate on a panel hosted by Rowan University and the Born This Way Foundation, which focused on mental health awareness during the pandemic.
While finishing up my semester online, I was also going through the internship application and interview process with NCTA and the T. Howard Foundation. I was getting excited to live and work in Washington, D.C. for the summer. I could even envision my daily commute on the Red Line! But as time passed and the pandemic worsened, I began to prepare myself for the worst-case scenario—the potential cancellation of my summer internship. But little did I know, I would become the company’s first intern to transition to an all-virtual internship experience.
At first, I was skeptical about completing my internship from home. The entire experience of going into the office, grabbing lunch, and meeting coworkers was taken away. But through video conferencing, I was able to make connections and maintain relationships with my coworkers, which is something I did not expect to do very well in this new scenario. I also had weekly meetings with my department and my supervisors. Even when in a virtual space, I felt like I knew them just as much as if we were actually in the office. NCTA also hosted virtual happy hours, workouts, cooking classes, and themed webinars that I could attend and learn from. Not to mention, I could work from the comfort of my own home, where everything was within my reach.
Before the pandemic, I believed there would be no point in completing my college semester or internship online. But after these experiences, I can say there are many benefits to working remotely, and a lot of potential to keep students and workers engaged. Moving forward, I also think we will appreciate in-person interactions with our peers and coworkers that much more.