Virtual learning impacts academics

Molly Sweeney

Virtual learning has made a noticeable impact on Augustana’s Honor Council cases and academic support systems. Honor Council has seen an increase in violations, and both the Reading and Writing Center (RWC) and the Student Success Services Offices (SSSO) have seen a decrease in students reaching out for help.
The Honor Council’s role is to determine if a student has plagiarized or cheated on an exam or an assignment, and then determine how severe of a violation it was.
Sophomore Michaela Magee, Honor Council member, said that she believes more students are committing honor code violations this year due to the unprecedented times of online schooling.
“A lot of the cases are more gray because everything’s online. You can’t have exact proof of students cheating. Then in addition, there is a lot more temptation to cheat because everything is online,” Magee said.
Alyssa Twilbeck, Honor Council co-chair, is in agreement with Magee that there is more cheating occuring due to virtual learning. According to Twilbeck, there are as many as 1.5x as many reports as last fall.
However, Twilbeck is also involved in discussions with faculty members through the Honor Council that focuses on fostering more understanding for students. The ongoing conversations center around when to create a learning experience for a student who might be confused on the difference between paraphrasing and citing and when to report a student to the Honor Council.
“We just had the opportunity to share our thoughts as students, and they were discussing as faculty members what’s going on from their perspective. We wanted to open that dialogue towards understanding.” Twilbeck said.
Research and Instruction Librarian Stefanie Bluemle believes that it is difficult to compare the number of honor code violations between this year and past years, especially considering Augustana’s recent transition from trimesters to semesters. However, there has been a clear increase in cases that the Honor Council must deal with .
“Qualitatively I would say there has been a rise in reports with honor code violation. Previously, we might see, for example, two or three or maybe four reports at the end of the trimester or at the end of the semester. Now we’re seeing six or eight or more sometimes,” Bluemle said.
Alternatively, Yen Dao, director of SSSO has noticed that the focus of what students come to her office for has shifted.
“I think there’s been fewer numbers of people reaching out for help, and I think part of that is because students don’t want another remote meeting.” Dao said. “There’s definitely a significant increase in people wanting to talk about how to deal with hybrid learning as opposed to just wanting help with time management.”
Lucas Street, director of the RWC, said that he has also adjusted to virtual learning by leaning on technology more when interacting with students and giving feedback through email.
“We found that there were some students who didn’t have the technology or the internet connection necessary to make that work,” Street said. “Students can still sign up for an appointment through starfish, but it’s just a placeholder for them to submit their paper to us along with a short response about what they most want help with.”
The RWC has also tried to be more accommodating to distance learners who might be in different time zones at this time.
“We have offered some late night appointments during J-term in particular. So far we offered what was in this time zone a 10pm to midnight shift, just as an experiment to see if students who are working on stuff late at night would want to use that,” Street said. “We’re continuing to try to experiment with different ways of meeting students and be an open door, even though it’s a virtual door.”
Although virtual learning has negatively impacted academics, Augustana as a whole, both Honor Council and the systems in place that aid students with academics, are working hard to simultaneously support students and provide them with a strong educational experience.
“We’re making an effort to kind of be mindful of the stresses that students are under as a result of the pandemic, but at the same time, balanced out with continuing to uphold academic integrity,” Bluemle said.
Alternatively, Yen Dao, director of SSSO has noticed that the focus of what students come to her office for has shifted.
“I think there’s been fewer numbers of people reaching out for help, and I think part of that is because students don’t want another remote meeting.” Dao said. “There’s definitely a significant increase in people wanting to talk about how to deal with hybrid learning as opposed to just wanting help with time management.”
Lucas Street, director of the RWC said that he has also adjusted to virtual learning by leaning on technology more when interacting with students and giving feedback through email. 
“We found that there were some students who didn’t have the technology or the internet connection necessary to make that work,” Street said. “Students can still sign up for an appointment through starfish, but it’s just a placeholder for them to submit their paper to us along with a short response about what they most want help with.”
The RWC has also tried to be more accommodating to distance learners who might be in different time zones at this time. 
“We have offered some late night appointments during J-term in particular. So far we offered what was in this time zone a 10pm to midnight shift, just as an experiment to see if students who are working on stuff late at night would want to use that,” Street said. “We’re continuing to try to experiment with different ways of meeting students and be an open door, even though it’s a virtual door.”
Although virtual learning has negatively impacted academics, Augustana as a whole, both Honor Council and the systems in place that aid students with academics, are working hard to simultaneously support students and provide them with a strong educational experience.
“We’re making an effort to kind of be mindful of the stresses that students are under as a result of the pandemic, but at the same time, balanced out with continuing to uphold academic integrity,” Bluemle said.