Ups and downs of learning through a pandemic: Nontraditional students navigating challenges

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students have had to face a variety of new challenges, some of which can be even more difficult for nontraditional students to navigate.

Austin Hale is a Kent State student who has bilateral hearing loss, requiring him to have a transcriber during his classes, provided by Student Accessibility Services (SAS). The transcriber makes sure Hale has all the material to read for his classes so he does not miss something important.

“She [the transcriber] caption recorded lectures and class materials [and] joined remotely held class periods and used speech to text to transcribe in real time,” Hale said.

When the pandemic started and Kent State moved all classes to remote learning, he still worked with his transcriber but expressed the “increased difficulty” of trying to email and stay connected to the professors, students and his transcriber. Hale had been in online classes before, so he had experience with the setup and knew how to navigate Blackboard easily. But, he also said his stress level was higher than a normal semester with the lack of communication and organization during the pandemic.

Joshua Rider, director of the Center for Adult and Veteran Services at Kent State, said they do a lot of online applications and initiatives, so they were a little more prepared for the pandemic than they knew they needed to be. 

“The Parenting Student Task Force is rolling out online conversation groups for adult learners with kids,” Rider said, which is planned for this fall. 

The task force can help students who are parents talk and stay connected.  The center also helps refer students to resources such as childcare and accessibility needs.

DaJonay Johnson, a junior public relations major, is also a nontraditional student as she is a single mother. Her 4-year-old daughter is usually at daycare, but since the pandemic started, daycares closed for nonessential workers, and Johnson now has her daughter at home full time. Johnson said she came to Kent because she heard they were known for a good single parent program, though she has not participated in it. Johnson has taken online classes before because of her personal situation, but it was still harder this semester with the added distractions of having her daughter at home.

Johnson is also a commuter and said that since the university moved to remote learning, she did not have to commute to school, saving her a 50 minute drive. 

“What’s tough is the pandemic within itself,” Johnson said. “Daycares are closed, we’re forced to use Zoom for classes and my job is closed.” Johnson works at Nordstrom which opened up a couple weeks ago and has now closed due to the protests. 

Johnson said she took advantage of Kent State’s pass/fail option for the spring semester, but she said the communication of the program was minimal and not advertised well. She heard about the opportunity from a classmate three days before the deadline for the application. Her application was accepted, but the breakdown of whether she passed or needed to retake classes was also not communicated easily.

The pandemic then hit home for Johnson after her father was diagnosed with COVID-19. 

“When he got sick it became reality to me,” she said. 

He did not have to go to the hospital and quarantined at home, but Johnson said he was so sick he couldn’t talk on the phone, and the family would drop off food and essentials on the front porch for him. He has since recovered.

Kent State has programs and services available for nontraditional students such as; Center for Adult and Veteran Services, Student Accessibility Services, Division of Student Affairs Task Force, LIFE program and various scholarships. Kent State also offered students a pass/fail option for the spring semester, with no repercussion to their GPA.

Contact Nicole Harness at [email protected]