In mid-March of 2020, Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) students, faculty and staff were just wrapping up Winter Term and looking ahead to spring.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic forced Oregon’s colleges and universities to migrate courses to the virtual classroom in a matter of weeks. As a result, students, faculty and staff faced a new reality of teaching, working and learning remotely, many for the first time.
Many students have a similar story to that of Nicole Johnson-Moses, who is a psychology major pursuing her Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree. A first-time online learner, Nicole’s advising appointment to sign up for her Spring Term classes was the last time she set foot on an MHCC campus.
“I’m a mom of two young girls, so I started attending Mt. Hood knowing I wanted to find a career for myself,” she said. “I was ready to go, and then everything hit and it all went online. It was a big mental adjustment for me.”
That adjustment took some time, effort and patience, but according to Nicole, the support of her instructors and her partner have made all of the difference.
“I thought it was going to be a lot more complicated than going in person. As a parent, I was really nervous and that was my big concern, as well as making sure I was going to get the same quality education out of it,” she said. “We have moments that are challenging, but for the most part it’s been great.”
Tyson Hailey, who is earning his prerequisites ahead of joining the Funeral Services Education program, began his remote studies in Fall Term and had never taken an online class before either.
Before starting online classes with MHCC, Tyson said he perceived the virtual learning experience to be unstructured and feared that he wouldn’t learn as much if he wasn’t physically in a classroom. Now he is successfully navigating all of his digital coursework alongside his son, who is in the seventh grade and also attending school remotely.
“The first week of term was chaotic, but you just have to get in the swing of things,” Tyson said. “Having a routine, being organized and having discipline have all been really important for me.”
Like Tyson, Kenia Alabarran has never set foot on an MHCC campus. A Spanish-speaker, Kenia began taking Intensive English for College and Career (IECC) in Spring 2020 and simultaneously had to begin toggling between Blackboard, Zoom, Microsoft Word and her email all while learning a new language.
Kenia has found ample support from MHCC’s AVID and Learning Success Center, which provides online tutoring services. This helped her overcome barriers to learning a new language remotely.
“Sometimes in-person you can use body language to clarify your thoughts or what you are trying to say. That is not always possible with a camera,” she said. “The tutors have helped me a lot.”
Kenia is now aiming to complete her IECC coursework by Winter Term so she can begin working toward an associate degree.
“Don’t get frustrated. It can be easy to get frustrated and decide to quit, but it is good to remember that many people are in the same situation as you and that you are not alone,” Kenia said. “Sometimes you think ‘I’m not smart enough to take online classes’ but everyone can do it. The key is to be persistent.”
These students are diverse when it comes to their academic goals and backgrounds, but when it comes to online learning, they share the prior misconception that it was not something that they could do, that it was not for them. Now they are all finding success in the virtual classroom, as well as comfort and flexibility in being able to study from home.
“I do miss being on-campus, but what has really surprised me is how accessible my online classes have been,” Nicole said. “I know I can do my homework after my kids are in bed or I can get up earlier and get it out of the way. It has really made it so I have more built-in flexibility. I don’t think I ever realized how well this could actually work.”