Many Marquette students have been subject to a hybrid learning environment for the entirety of the 2021 spring semester. This is now the third semester that students have taken part in partial or fully online learning.
In addition to navigating college during the COVID-19 pandemic, students had to adjust after the university canceled spring break. Instead of spring break, the university added Mental Health Days throughout the semester, the next one taking place on Wednesday April 20.
Many students have expressed feelings of added stress and burnout from the pandemic and in some cases, the lack of breaks.
Different higher education institutions across Wisconsin have been addressing the problems of burnout in various ways.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee held a scheduled spring break from March 21-28. UW-Milwaukee is using an academic calendar similar to past years. Instead of a normal week-long spring break and no random days off throughout the semester. Currently, UWM is offering a hybrid format similar to Marquette, where some classes are face-to-face and some are online or partially online.
UWM chancellor Mark A. Mone said to students that the university plans to be “fully operational” next semester.
“We are optimistic that, by this summer, the majority of our faculty, instructors, advisors, and others working directly with students will be vaccinated. We urge everyone to monitor eligibility categories and the availability of vaccines. You are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as availability and eligibility allow,” Mone said in a letter to UWM students.
Other institutions, like University of Wisconsin-Madison, have taken a different approach regarding spring break. Like Marquette, UW-Madison canceled their spring break to discourage travel and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
However, students at UW-Madison did get three days off from classes this spring. Marquette students had Good Friday off from classes in addition to the Mental Health Days. This was the first time Marquette students had more than two consecutive days off this semester.
Additionally, UW-Madison has given students the option to use a pass/fail grading system for this semester. The majority of higher education institutions, including Marquette, offered this option the spring 2020 semester.
“We are making this change because we recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an ongoing and cumulative impact on students in many different ways,” UW-Madison Provost Karl Scholz said in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.
The implementation of a pass/fail system gives students the option to replace letter grades with “Satisfactory-Disruption” or “University Disruption-No Credit.” Students can make this decision after receiving their final grades for the semester. The pass/fail designations will not factor into Madison students’ GPAs, should they choose that option.
Despite the news from Madison, Marquette will not be offering a pass/fail grading option for the spring semester. Vice Provost for Academic affairs John Su said part of the reasoning for keeping the same grading system is the increase of students earning higher letter grades last semester.
“Based on the data from last semester we actually had more students with A’s than in our previous pandemic semester. We went from 50 % of students, pre-pandemic getting A’s to 57% this last semester,” Su said in the Marquette Now newscast on April 7.
Su said that higher education institutions have different needs and approaches based on size and the challenges that come with that.
“Different institutions have different cultures. Madison’s a big school, they may have less of an opportunity to have the personalized outreach that we’ve undertaken to get that academic support out for students,” Su said.
Even though Marquette will not be departing from its traditional grading system this semester, Su acknowledges that some students have been having a difficult time navigating the current semester
“Our students have been going through a lot of mental health challenges. Burnout is real. But, they’re getting the right supports and they’re working closely with their instructors,” Su said.
Some of these “right supports” can be attributed to the various mental health services that Marquette has to offer. This includes the counseling center and the online service Silvercloud, which offers self-guided programs ranging in topics from anxiety-depression and sleep.
Even with the various supports available many students have still expressed the difficulties of online learning during the pandemic. Students will get two more mental health days, April 20 and May 5, before the spring semester officially ends May 15.
This story was written by Megan Woolard. She can be reached at email@example.com