Educating Through a Pandemic: Finals Edition

Posted on May 6, 2020 by Alisa Lewis

Finals. A word that holds an infinite amount of weight for both high school and college students. With college’s finals weeks fast approaching, the question becomes what will change as we complete the semester virtually? Many students are wondering if and how these final exams and essays will be administered, and if the grading criteria will change at all. 

Speaking to UW Oshkosh junior Kailey Bagley, I got her take on the drastic changes that ensued after colleges and universities went online. Kailey is an Elementary Education major with a minor in Math. 

“Virtual learning is so much different than face-to-face classes. I have to push myself more with my online classes to be able to teach myself most of the material. I would much rather be back in the classrooms,” she says.

Students across the United States face the same dilemma. They are supposed to teach themselves, while performing at a standard similar to the one where they were taught by a trained professional. Not only are students expected to teach themselves through their own efforts, they also had to weather a difficult transition period. Students were sent home from their universities, transitioned to living back at home and learned how to complete school virtually. 

When asked how this transition affected her, Kailey explains, “I feel like I definitely lost content when everything switched to online. For example, some of my classes continue to upload podcasts or hold class over Collaborate Ultra. Other classes haven’t uploaded any material and we are just supposed to finish the assignments that were scheduled throughout the rest of the semester.”

Colleges are turning to a variety of online formats to educate their students, but it remains a challenge when not all professors and students are comfortable learning in that way. A rough transition period combined with personal learning results in a fear for finals that is more intense than previous years. Finals have always been heavily weighted, but with less learning taking place and a new online format, many professors are altering their traditional exams and essays and turning them into projects. 

“This semester, many of my finals are projects,” Kailey says. “They are cumulative projects describing what we have learned throughout the semester. I only have one class that has a final test.”

For all finals remaining in exam format, they are being administered differently than before. Professors monitor students to avoid cheating, and set strict limits on exams to increase difficulty. 

“it is a lot harder than before. In class, we would’ve had the class period to work on the exam. Now that it is online, there is a time limit of 30 minutes to take a full exam, which I personally find a lot more difficult because the time limit puts even more pressure on you,” Kailey says.  

Even though the content may be the same, the exams are often more difficult due to the virtual aspect of learning, but professors are stepping up to help alleviate some of the stress. Some offer exams without a grade, relying on students to figure out how much they have learned, or find a way to work with students to make projects more accessible by sending them materials with which to work. Kailey sees this in her professors as well, saying, “Most of my professors have been overly understanding and helpful during this time.” 

Finals will always provide students with about two weeks of unending stress, regardless of their format. Luckily professors and students are adapting as they go, creating a positive work environment, designed to help students succeed. When asked about her best advice for students heading into finals week, Kailey says, “Study, even though the finals are now online, don’t wait until the last minute to look over your materials or expect to be able to look up every answer. Also breathe. This is a very weird and unexpected time for all of us, we will get through it!”

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