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Her day begins bright and early at 8 a.m. when she wakes up her 10-year-old son. They then spend the rest of the day in Zoom class sessions, catching only a short break for lunch, until they are done for the day at 4 p.m.

For non-traditional student and 33-year-old mother ReBecca Graham, UA officials’ decision to switch to fully remote instruction on March 12, 2020, was an exciting opportunity. The change helped her to make the decision to complete her bachelor’s degree. The new format allowed Graham to transfer from Northwest Arkansas Community College to the UofA as a sophomore, earlier than she had planned.

Before the pandemic, Graham spent nearly nine years working at Northwest Arkansas Community Corrections, a women’s prison in Fayetteville. After taking classes while working 50-60 hours every week, she decided to quit her job this semester and focus entirely on school.

“I would get a little bit of evening time with my kid, then I would be studying all night long,” Graham said. “Now I feel way better and I can mostly stay caught up on my schoolwork during the day and just have our evenings to hang out and have family time.”

Graham’s son, Owen, a fifth-grader, is also attending school from home. Their schedules are set up to where they are not in class at the same time, allowing Graham to help her son with his assignments, she said. Graham has even found enough free time to create and sell home decor pieces to friends and Facebook acquaintances, providing her with a hobby and a part-time job.

Beau Russell, a junior, attended American University in Washington D.C. before transferring to the UofA in fall 2020. Because of the flexibility provided by remote courses, Russell has been able to work on passion projects and adopt a dog, he said. Russell took summer classes online while also working on personal endeavors.

“So this year, with all of the crazy stuff that’s been going on, it’s been awful for so many reasons,” Russell said. “But I’ve also been given a lot more freedom just with time because I'm not having to be in class. So yeah, I’ve been able to do some pretty amazing stuff.”

Some students have found that remote learning has had a positive impact on their work lives and grades.

Amelia Hudson, a junior majoring in family and consumer sciences, said she enjoys remote classes because of the ample free time she now has. When classes went remote, Hudson picked up more hours at her job at Target, and became more involved with her father’s wedding photography business. Hudson’s level engagement with her classes, as well as her grades, have also improved since she began remote learning.

“When I was in-person, I was just on my phone the entire time,” Hudson said. “I wasn’t listening to the lectures and now that it’s online, I just like being in my own bedroom. I can kind of work at my own pace and my grades have gone up a lot since.”

The stress of attending in-person classes made Russell not want to go, but now he attends class more regularly than before, he said. Russell’s social anxiety worsened when the pandemic became more serious, and he became more paranoid about groups of people. He has since worked on acquiring coping mechanisms to deal with the isolation during some of the free time afforded him by remote classes.

“I’ve started meditating and exercising every day, which has been, you know, really good for me,” Russell said. “The coping mechanisms I’ve created, I would never have had to do that had I not had to deal with the anxiety that comes from (COVID-19).”

Although she does not know exactly what the future holds, Graham’s goal is to take 15-16 hours per semester until she graduates, to complete her degree swiftly, she said. She hopes university officials will allow students to continue taking remote classes if they decide to return to more in-person classes.

If and when the university returns to primarily in-person instruction, Graham said it will be a difficult adjustment for her and her son because it would limit her class options. As a non-traditional student, Graham wonders how she will be able to manage her time and household if she is required to be on campus all day.

“Right now, I definitely get to spend way more time with my son now and I’m sure that will change eventually.” Graham said. “I don’t have to go across campus to do anything. I can do stuff at home that I need to get done. It just gives me a lot more control over my own time outside of class.”

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