SNHU branded bike rack (image courtesy: SNHU External Affairs and Communications)

When SNHU shut down all non-essential campus activity in March of 2020, it shifted its gears toward a more accessible online learning environment for on-campus students.

This shift sparked widespread adoption of digital platforms like RingCentral, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams as the primary means of delivering education.

Now, as the university approaches its one-year anniversary of adopting virtual learning for its on-campus community, the discussion of when it would be appropriate to reopen the campus remains at large.

While both proponents and critics diverge on the argument to varying degrees, the key to solving this problem is not to combat another virtual semester, but rather to resume normal campus activities in the fall for optimal student and faculty health.

In fact, a growing number of concerns from the SNHU student body strongly suggest that the long-term effects of online learning are more detrimental than beneficial to student and faculty well-being. Transitioning to virtual classes has been, “a lot different than I thought it was going to be,” explains Luke Zemianek, a second-semester innovation scholar majoring in sports management at SNHU.

“We [innovation scholars] don’t have scheduled class times, so we have to do the work for the week by ourselves,” he adds.

As a strong visual learner, Zemianek believes that his professors’ weekly class assignments have been taking a serious toll on his greater motivation to continue learning. For him, effective digital communication regarding his studies or, “having your teacher meeting with you once a week would be helpful,” but he has not, “met anybody yet, and that’s definitely one of the reasons why being off-campus is tough.”

Similarly, on-campus educators at SNHU have found it equally as challenging to teach classes that are both engaging and interactive for their students in a remote academic environment.

Like the professors at the School of Arts and Sciences have been struggling significantly for the past year to modify common course content to fit online academic settings, especially coursework that deals with lab experiments.

When chemistry students perform hands-on experiments at home, “sometimes roommates knock over their [the students’] items, other times they run out of materials, and sometimes their moms need the kitchen for cooking,” details Jessica Burl, a chemistry instructor and science lab administrator at SNHU.

In Burl’s case, lab courses have not been the same since academic classwork has become virtual. “We’ve lost all that connectedness,” she explains, “and sometimes it just feels like I’m talking,” instead of lecturing a class of college students. For lab professors like her, it is upsetting because, “lots of students are afraid to speak up,” and, “they just try to pass  not get that A.”

Having witnessed students and faculty battle academic hardships over the past 2 semesters, Burl sees returning to campus in the fall as the most rational option. Her excitement would be through the roof and, “nothing would make me worried,” she exclaims. “Even if the virus is still rampant, we can wear masks,” Burl states, “and I hope the vaccine becomes available soon, so more of us can be vaccinated.”

For staff and students, not only does returning to an educationally driven, in-person learning environment sustain mental and physical well-being, but it also enhances the academic performance of the student, by promoting general efficacy in instructor communication.

Provided that SNHU upholds strict obedience towards COVID-19 safety guidelines, it seems clear that the most beneficial action that SNHU can make for its faculty, staff, and students is to reopen its gates during the fall semester of 2021.