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Some classes assign recorded lectures to watch outside of class in addition to homework.

Credit: Emily Xu

The Class of 2024 began their Penn careers unlike most — during a pandemic while taking classes within the confines of their homes. After the first couple weeks of attending Penn virtually, first years weigh in on their academic and social experiences thus far.

Some first years said they were overwhelmed at the beginning of the semester by their classes' workload, and that the online format led to more confusion or difficulty in attending class. Many students agreed, however, that their social experience has been better than expected, citing opportunities to meet other first years through classes and virtual study groups.

Engineering first year Andrea Urdenata said her first week at Penn was a “roller coaster” of emotions, with mixed feelings of excitement and stress while trying to navigate the start of freshman year through online classes.

Urdenata said several of her classes meet synchronously during the scheduled class time, but also assign two to three hours of recorded lectures to watch outside of class in addition to homework. 

“I just feel like I'm always doing work constantly, and there's never an end to it,” Urdenata said.

Engineering first year Christa Simaan and Wharton first year Katherine Hu both agreed the first couple weeks of classes have been overwhelming due to the number of asynchronous lectures they must watch on their own time in addition to the live class meetings.

Simaan described her Penn experience so far as sitting in her room for hours on end while listening to lectures and then having to complete asynchronous work for her classes.

"That was kind of stressful, to make sure I am doing everything and I know every assignment I need to be doing," Simaan said.

Wharton first year Erin Feng added that learning how to navigate Canvas, attend Zoom sessions, and deal with Wi-Fi issues during a live class have been particularly stressful during the past couple weeks. Despite the technical issues, Feng said she has been able to adjust to Penn's online learning fairly quickly.

While some feel as if the heavy workload from both asynchronous and synchronous sessions hinder any meaningful social experiences, others have been pleasantly surprised by the opportunity to collaborate with other students and form friendships in class.

Urdenata said the transition to college has been tough, feeling as if she is only getting the academic experience of college and not the social experience.

“It just feels like it's all work and no fun because you just don't meet people, and it's hard to meet new people through Zoom,” Urdenata said.

College first year Steicy De Paiva said, however, Zoom breakout rooms foster more conversation and connections between students and offer a greater chance for first years to get to know one another.

"I'm able to interact with different students so it kind of feels like I'm on campus," De Paiva said.

Hu noted that she has been surprised by how willing her classmates are to connect over Zoom and form study groups. She added that she has also met other students through group projects.

“During this time, everyone's isolated, so we are even more eager to form those connections,” she said.

Feng echoed Hu's thoughts, adding that she did not expect this high level of engagement and collaborative spirit among students through a virtual environment.

“Because we're in this sort of unprecedented environment, it has sort of fostered a ‘we're all in this together' sort of mentality,” Feng said. “People are always willing to talk, and they’re super supportive.”