Advisers and students alike have spent the fall semester adjusting to a new, virtual “normal.” As spring registration opens, both are mentally preparing for another semester spent mostly behind a screen.
With registration beginning on Monday, USF advisers across different colleges juggled between Microsoft Teams and email advising to help students register for spring classes. Despite the university offering fewer online courses in the spring compared to fall, many advisers are anticipating the continuation of virtual advising during the upcoming semester.
Adviser for the English department Michael Stowe said that students should contemplate their spring semester choices carefully during registration week because classes and events are likely to stay virtual.
“If you’ve been taking classes fully or mostly virtually, spend some time seriously considering how the format affects your learning,” Stowe said. “Some folks thrive in this environment. Others encounter new challenges.
“Neither response is inherently better or worse. They’re just different, and if you can assess where you fall on that spectrum, you can make clearer choices when balancing course content and modality.”
Undergraduate academic adviser for the School of Architecture and Community Design Sophia Peerzada said that struggling with online courses is the most common issue that students have come to her to talk about as they plan their spring coursework.
“Online learning requires you to be more diligent with your time management, and for some students, online learning is not for them,” she said.
Mia Romero, a junior health sciences major, is not eager to take more virtual courses.
“I am not too excited about everything being online again as I have struggled this semester with my major science classes being online,” she said.
Hana Elwood, a freshman education major, said she hopes to have more in-person classes as she has found her virtual first semester at USF to be lackluster.
“I was excited for spring semester registration, but disappointed when I saw that all my classes would be online, despite the university saying they would be opening up more classrooms,” she said.
While 55.4% of spring semester classes are projected to have some sort of in-person interaction, The Oracle reported in an Oct. 26 story that 44.6% of courses will still be mostly or entirely online.
As registration begins, Peerzada and other advisers note that preparing for the spring semester is difficult as a result of the uncertainties around COVID-19.
“Everything is so impossible to predict,” she said. “[Advisers] continue to be flexible and know that ‘normal’ probably won’t return as soon as we all had hoped.”
Deborah Graña, Provost’s Scholar Program adviser, has a checklist of items for students to take care of before they register for classes.
“Get permits, get your AA holds or any other holds removed, make sure to visit your major advisor to ensure you are on track and look over the schedule planner for all possible courses and possible backups,” she said.
For the spring semester, waitlists will be more commonly used because of the many different methods of delivery for courses. To give students room to switch to their preferred method, more waitlists will be implemented, according to Stowe.
“Not every class has a waitlist, but many that haven’t in previous terms will this year,” Stowe said. “Familiarizing yourself with waitlist policies is going to be important if you choose to exercise that option.”
Leading up to the Nov. 2 registration opening, Campus Director of the Judy Genshaft Honors College Cayla Lanier advised students to take advantage of adviser appointments.
“I would encourage students to make the most of their time with their adviser,” she said. “Talk about what you’re dealing with, thinking about and your concerns about the future. Advisers may not have the answers, but they can certainly listen and let students know you’re not alone in this.”
For education majors, the option of speaking with an adviser has been largely eliminated. Elwood said she has been left in the dark when registering for the upcoming semester following USF’s decision to eliminate all undergraduate programs in the College of Education.
“It’s become increasingly hard to be able to set up an appointment with my adviser because there is still little official information that has been released,” Elwood said. “I actually had an appointment with [my adviser] about two weeks ago that got canceled when the news came out that the College of Education would be closing.”
If not for the adviser’s quick switchover to technology-based sessions, according to Honors Adviser Allyson Cousino Smith, helping students may not have been possible during the fall semester.
“We have continued to adapt our advising to meet the needs of students by providing drop-in appointments, responding to questions through email, [Microsoft] Teams chats, phone calls and [Microsoft] Teams video calls to ensure students know that they matter and we are here to help,” she said.
Students like senior English major Aimee Martinez have enjoyed the ease in which they can consult their advisers.
“I’ve used virtual advising twice this semester and both times it was helpful and easy,” she said. “Making an appointment is simple and I was able to solve my issues quickly and effectively as if I had met with my adviser in person.”
Students can make appointments by navigating to the “Advisor Appointments” section of the “Learning & Teaching Tools” tab of MyUSF or by clicking on “Schedule an adviser appointment” in Archivum.
Even though Microsoft Teams and other technologies have mostly served their purposes, they have been met with mixed feelings by the advisers. Rachel Lynch, undergraduate adviser for the School of Art and Art History, said that Microsoft Teams is a little too impersonal.
“When in an office, you are able to see the student, their face, their body language and pick up on other issues that may be taking place,” she said.
Despite Microsoft Team’s limited capabilities, some advisers, like Stowe, have found that it does have some advantages.
“There’s a lot more flexibility,” Stowe said. “It’s easier to share digital resources and every once in a while I get to meet a new animal when a pet wanders into the frame.”
In terms of visitors, Peerzada has experienced some that were unwelcome.
“The only issue that has arisen has been when parents decide to listen in or join in on the calls when it is obvious the student might not want them there in the advising meeting,” she said. “With everyone being remote and many living at home, it can definitely lead to some concerns about privacy and boundaries between students and their parents.”
Overall, advisers have adjusted to virtual sessions, but they cannot replicate the energy of in-person experiences.
“While we are managing well given the constraints of our current environment, it’s not quite the same as face-to-face interactions with students,” Smith said. “We can’t replace the spontaneity of a chance meeting in the halls that turns out to be a productive conversation, the start of a new project, the spark of a new idea or just a simple check-in with students.”
The coming spring semester is anticipated to be very similar to the structure of the fall for advisers in terms of online meetings and email advising, but Lynch remains optimistic.
“It is disappointing to have such a nontraditional experience, but I remind students this will be something they can look back on and see how they persevered,” she said.
“It is rewarding to help students see some of the silver linings about all that is going on.”