One year later: Kent State students’ relationship with remote learning

Sophomore communication studies major Lilli DiFini’s home workspace.

Morgan McGrath Feature writer

Students at Kent State University, like most colleges, have had no choice but to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s been terrorizing the United States for nearly a year now. 

In fact, 2,260 students are living on campus this semester (spring 2021) compared to 3,576 on campus last semester (fall 2020), according to Eric Mansfield, director of university media relations (communications and marketing). 

As a result of the pandemic, some students have moved back in with their families for a variety of reasons. 

Lilli DiFini, a junior communication studies major with a public relations minor, is one of many young people who has shifted their learning environment from on-campus to at home.

DiFini lived on campus in the fall for only a month before deciding to move back home.

Limited campus activities, a fully remote class schedule and financial savings opportunities were all collective factors in her decision to spend the semester at home with her mother, father and two younger brothers instead of on campus with friends and classmates. 

“I didn’t like being on campus with everything that changed,” DiFini said. “I knew campus from my freshman year when it was exciting and everyone was doing stuff.”

Logging onto college classes from her childhood bedroom has been a difficult adjustment for DiFini. 

“I think the one thing that I struggle most with is that I’m a college student, and living at home I don’t feel like a college student,” DiFini said. 

She added, “There’s so much less freedom when you’re living at home.” 

DiFini said it’s difficult to feel like a regular college student because she’s not able to live independently in her dorm, meet up with friends on campus or go to the library to do homework.

She said that living at home, though it certainly has its freedoms, is also quite restrictive in that sense. 

Like many college students, DiFini has also been struggling to adapt to a fully online schedule. 

“The whole learning dynamic is completely different,” she said. “I’m not getting as much of an education because I can’t sit there and look at my professor and have them teach me.”

DiFini said it’s been tough to feel like a college student since she’s not on campus with people her own age.

“I think it’s a lot harder to stay motivated, number one because I’m not on campus and I don’t feel like a college kid. I feel like I’m just checking off boxes of things I have to do,” she said. 

Her classes have been fully remote for the entirety of her sophomore year, and this new way of learning deprives college students from building new relationships. 

“I miss sitting next to someone on the first day of a lecture and being like, ‘What’s your name? What’s your major?’” DiFini said.

As a self-proclaimed extrovert, DiFini’s newly introverted lifestyle has been uniquely challenging. 

“I’m a very outgoing person,” she said. “I like going and seeing people and doing things. I think one of the things that’s made it a struggle for me is that I don’t have that connection.”

However, she’s been finding ways to stay positive by making the most of her situation at home. 

“I can go out and get coffee and go shopping and do those kinds of things,” DiFini said. 

She’s also been able to save some money and spend more time with family while at home, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. 

Despite the fears and uncertainties that come with COVID-19, DiFini is hoping to move back to Kent in the fall. 

“I’ve had a year of living at home and I miss being in Kent,” she said. 

College from home can be a complicated experience to navigate, and DiFini isn’t alone in feeling this way. Kennedi Combs, a junior journalism major, moved back home to Cleveland, Ohio at the start of the spring 2021 semester. 

With a fully remote class schedule, it was in her best interest to stay at home and save extra money. 

“Honestly, it’s just about the money,” Combs said. “In these times, where jobs are up in the air and so many things are going on, it’s just best to do what you know works and not really put a risk out there.”

Concerns regarding COVID-19 were an additional reason why Combs moved back home. 

“It’s a lot more safe to just be at home with your family and just be in your little bubble,” she said. 

Combs lives with her family of five and she says she is fully supported in terms of academic endeavors. 

However, like DiFini, Combs has had struggles with adjusting to completing school from home. 

“With campus, you have to go to classes,” she said. “But with remote classes, I will literally just roll over, open my computer and log onto class, and I have nothing to really stop me from doing that.” 

Combs said being at home makes it harder to stay motivated in classes. 

At home, Combs said, there are a number of distractions that make it challenging to focus on school such as sleeping and watching TV.

Additionally, the quality of learning has decreased for college students like Combs. 

“I feel like I’m getting a watered-down education right now, because a lot of times I’m having to teach myself stuff,” she said. 

However, a positive part of learning from home is having the ability to multitask. 

“What I do like is that I can do other things while I’m in class,” she said. “I’ve been grocery shopping while in class on my phone. I like that part of it, so I can be productive and get multiple things done at a time, but it has its pros and cons.”

Combs has plans to move back to Kent for the fall 2021 semester. By then, she’ll have been vaccinated and she’s looking forward to a brighter future. 

For now, she’s continuing to adjust to life at home. 

“I don’t see anyone,” Combs said. “I just sit in this house and log onto my classes and do my little assignments.” 

Kiley James, a junior integrated health studies major, shifted to at-home learning at the end of the fall 2020 semester. 

“There were a couple reasons that led up to this decision,” James said. “One reason was my mental health.” 

James dealt with worsening anxiety and depression during her time on campus in the fall, and this made it difficult to feel happy and comfortable. 

“I didn’t think I should be in an environment where I constantly have those feelings,” she said. 

Another reason James stayed home was to help watch her younger brother while his school was on a hybrid schedule. 

Additionally, concerns regarding COVID-19 and a smaller-sized dorm room aided James in her choice to leave campus after the fall. 

“Even though I am great friends with the person I was rooming with, it just got to a point where we were both like, ‘I need space.’”

On-campus living didn’t provide enough room for James to do homework, relax and have time to herself. 

She added, “I need space, both for myself to recover mentally as well as to be in a safer environment.”

James lives with her mother, stepfather and younger brother. 

“I don’t think it’s been too bad,” she said, “because we’re all very good at communicating with each other if something needs to get done.”

Since living at home, she’s been able to change her lifestyle to fit her remote schedule.

“For the most part, it’s been positive,” James said. “I’m eating healthier, my mental health seems to be getting a lot better … it’s been mostly positive. I guess the only negative is, again, I don’t get to see my friends.”

Being at home has been a beneficial experience for James in comparison to DiFini and Combs. 

“I’m able to hang out with my family and my pets and I feel like I’m doing better at school because I’m more focused, and I’m able to manage my time better because I have multiple places in the house I can go [to study, relax, etc.],” she said. 

James said she is planning to live on campus in the fall whether her classes are online or in-person. 

“I want to be on campus for my senior year,” she said.

Morgan McGrath is a feature writer. Contact her at [email protected].