‘There’s that lack of clarity’: First-gen students, instructors discuss issues in online engagement

(Archive Photo by Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

The Office of First-Generation Students continued celebrations of National First-generation Week with “Engaging and Supporting First-generation Students” Zoom discussion on Wednesday.

Moderators for the professional development session were Greg Eiselein, English professor; Kiley Moody, academic student services manager and Rebeca Paz, assistant director for the office of first-generation students.

The moderators divided the session into three discussion points circulating around three different questions.

1. What are you seeing among your students this year? All of your students? Among those who are first-generation?

Melissa Wanklyn, English instructor, said the biggest difference she sees in her class is the division of social skills.

“There are some [students] who are connected and some who aren’t,” Wanklyn said. “I think that a good number of my students already lack confidence in making new friends, and the pandemic situation magnifies this exponentially.”

Hannah Rollison, graduate student in English, said as a grad student, she struggles with knowing when and how to reach out and build relationships with professors.

“Luckily, there have been many helpful people in my department,” Rollison said. “I have also seen this struggle with my expository writing students, but this could be an overall problem rather than a first-gen issue.”

2. What has not worked this year? What are you still struggling with, especially in your interactions with first-generation students?

The recurring answer was engagement. Christina Chadwick, graduate teaching assistant in political science, said motivating her students this semester has gotten harder.

“It seems like everyone stayed on top of things at the beginning but as the semester progresses, less assignments are submitted on time,” she said.

Jenifer Hartt, non-degree graduate student, said it is the lack of clarity from her instructors that make this semester especially hard.

“As a grad student, those online instructors who try to use all the features of canvas only create confusion,” Hartt said. “Those faculty who have streamlined Canvas has helped.”

Another common problem first-generation students and other students face is the transition to all online classes. Wankyln said there are many options instructors can use to keep students engaged online.

“If I have a student with internet connectivity issues and we’re doing a Zoom, I’ve called them and set my phone by my computer so they can at least hear the discussion,” Wanklyn said. “Or I record the Zoom for them to view later.”

3. What has worked?

“TEXTING students instead of — or in addition to — emailing them,” Wanklyn said in the chat. “I usually text students and ask when a good time is for me to call them — or them to call me. They’re often more comfortable with texting, so this adds a level of comfort.”

Other forms of communication besides the traditional email that some instructors have used are “GroupMe” and “Remind101.”

Alongside communicational positivities, Tucker Jones, graduate teaching assistant in AP institutional effectiveness, said his students appreciate the self-care, extra credit assignments he builds into the curriculum.

“After midterms, I challenged my students to engage in some form of self-care and also gave them some TED Talks on the subject,” Jones said. “I, then, have them write up a brief summary of what they did and how it impacted them.”

The Office of First-Generation Students’ webpage offers a glossary for first-generation students to better understand common terms used around the university.

My name is Sean Schaper, and I'm the news editor for the Collegian. I’m a junior in journalism with a secondary focus in film studies. I grew up right outside of Kansas City in Leawood, Kansas. As a first-generation K-Stater, I look forward to leaving behind accurate coverage for the current and future Wildcat community.