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The shift to virtual classes has led to problems due to factors such as different time zones and Internet accessibility.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Still struggling to adjust to life during COVID-19, Penn went back to school this week like never before – online and off-campus. 

As the first week of remote classes after Penn's extended spring break kicks off, students in different time zones and without sufficient Internet access found themselves struggling to participate in their courses. But despite these challenges, many students praised professors for their dedication and understanding during classes, and for their work over the last two tumultuous weeks.

Many FGLI students who were denied on-campus housing started classes this week, still frantically searching for a place to stay and reliable Internet access. 

College junior Jane Lozada Foster found herself couch-surfing in Florida and borrowing her friend's computer in order to keep up with coursework. Her mother is immunocompromised and so it is not safe for Foster to return to live in her family home. 

"Penn financial aid has been taking a long, long time," Foster said. "I think they've just been overwhelmed by the number of people who need access to the Internet and computers."

Foster was granted a new laptop through Penn's financial aid office, but has yet to receive it. As a result, she is forced to miss class whenever her friend is unable to lend her his computer. Foster received $150 from Penn on Monday to set up Internet for herself, but she said she knows of other students who have yet to receive funds promised by Penn that they need for both Internet access and groceries. 

Foster believes her circumstances will prevent her from achieving at the same academic level she was able to maintain at Penn. As a result, she has decided to take all of her classes pass/fail and encourages other FGLI students to do the same. 

"There's not enough support from Penn for me to have the same access as somebody who is going home to a working computer and working access [to] Internet, and not having to worry about how to pay for Internet and housing," Foster said. 

Students that returned home to alternate time zones have additional difficulties attending their classes on Zoom. Some classes are held during the middle of the night or in the early hours of the morning on their local time. 

College junior and New Zealand native Linda Zou said she is grateful her professors have been so accommodating. If not, she would have had to attend an online class at 3:30 a.m. New Zealand time. 

"I do have one class at seven a.m. now. Obviously, it's much earlier than I'm used to, but it's discussion based, so I understand the need for that," Zou said. 

Carynn Chung, an exchange student this semester studying at the Annenberg School for Communication, experienced similar scheduling issues. 

"Now that I'm back in Singapore, the time difference is 12 hours, so I had to attend class from two to five a.m.," Chung said. "It's for a writing workshop course that I'm taking, so I didn't really see any way around that." 

Shifting classes online has also been difficult for students and faculty regardless of time zone or Internet access issues. Many professors have had to alter their syllabi and drastically change instruction format.

College junior Summer Kapanka said many of her classes, such as her seven-and-a-half-hour Existential Despair course, have had to change format as a result of the remote instruction. Instead of reading a book for three hours during class, followed by lecture and discussion, students will now read books on their own time, watch a 20-minute pre-recorded lecture, and submit a discussion post online. 

However, she praised her professor Justin McDaniel for his diligent effort to try and make the class as meaningful as possible. 

"Sure there are lots of things that are going to be not as great as being in the class, and it was such a surreal experience in such an experiential learning class, but I do still think that the class has value," Kapanka said. 

She added that several students held their own voluntary zoom call to discuss one of the class books, which she said she enjoyed.

Kapanka also said one of her professors was temporarily kicked off of Zoom during class, prompting momentary confusion before the professor was able to connect to Wi-fi and re-join the class.

Foster and Kapanka both stressed that they were appreciative of their professors' dedication and understanding during such a difficult time. They said all of their professors are doing everything they can to help students have the best experience possible with remote instruction. 

"Shoutout to the professors," Kapanka said, acknowledging the tough situation that students and professors have been placed in. “I know that [professors] have been going through a lot too."