How pandemic affected field experience for education majors

COVID-19 caused students to miss out on in-classroom experience

By Kaylee Brennan

The coronavirus pandemic caused education majors to miss out on a year of experience inside of an actual classroom. The question posed now is: Will this negatively affect their overall learning experience and future in the field of education?

At the end of the fall semester in 2020, Niagara University officially switched to online-learning amidst the rise of COVID-19. Students had to adjust to Zoom meetings, virtual labs, online homework and field experience through a computer screen. Some specific majors that require hands-on learning struggled more than others. For example, STEM majors missed out on in-person labs, and students in international studies were unable to do any traveling abroad.

Furthermore, field experience for education majors looked a lot different last year. Students who plan to go into a career in teaching need 150 hours of field experience. To attain these hours, they are placed into local schools to observe until they become more involved in the classroom and eventually begin student-teaching. This is when they are able to use the strategies and teaching techniques they have been taught in an actual classroom setting.

Unfortunately, NU education majors could not do this while virtual; but there were other options available to complete their necessary hours.

The College of Education used the platform ATLAS to save students from losing hours of experience. ATLAS is an online program where students watch unedited videos of board-certified teachers from around the nation at work in the classroom. The slogan is, “To become an accomplished teacher, you need to see an accomplished teacher.”

Although this online program was the reason students were still able to complete their hours needed for their courses, some education majors had mixed feelings about online-learning in regard to field experience.

Hannah Enzinna, a junior this year at Niagara University, said, “I think it (the pandemic) hurt education majors in general, because we’re taught all these strategies and teaching techniques that we couldn’t really use. The pandemic definitely put all of us on pause with learning and being able to feel comfortable teaching or assisting in person.”

Lil Maerten, an administrative assistant who works in the office of field experience, coordinates placements and helps students obtain their hours. She said she believes the ATLAS program is what saved education students who needed the hours.

“We did not skip a beat because of the ATLAS education videos and SIM school. It was quite an experience, and it was challenging at times, but this was the best that we could do under the circumstances,” Maerten said.

Although they missed a year of experience, ATLAS still provided NU students majoring in education quality observation hours.

Education students at NU attained their experience through a computer screen during 2020, but things are looking up now that schools are back in person. This semester at NU, students are officially in the classrooms and are continuing on with hands-on experience and observation.

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