Some Wisconsin STEM college students feel left behind by remote learning

STEM courses are heavy in math and build on one another.
Published: Dec. 30, 2020 at 6:00 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The pandemic has disrupted the way students across all grade levels are learning.

For some college students, they feel left behind and find this year as a lost cause.

“Online education, in my opinion, is not as good as in person,” John Pfankuch, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, said. “I feel like I’m not learning as much as I could be.”

Pfankuch is studying mechanical engineering and his course load is heavy with courses in mathematics.

Three of his classes this fall are strictly online and Pfankuch said his grades dropped by a full letter grade since transitioning to remote education.

He, as well as others Action 2 News interviewed for this report, find it difficult to retain complex math problems in a distance learning environment.

“I think that being able to talk to teachers and peers in-person, and go to in-person tutors, which I used to utilize a lot, I think I benefited from that,” Pfankuck said.

Aaron Splan graduated from UWGB’s mechanical engineering program this winter and landed a job after an internship.

Splan agrees that distance learning is difficult for those majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics also known as STEM.

“Staying with it and not falling behind is the biggest thing because it is more difficult than being in the classroom, at least for me personally it was more difficult,’ Splan said.

What helped him succeed was “just staying in constant contact” with professors, he said.

STEM courses are heavy in math and build on one another.

The students Action 2 News spoke with expressed concern with the quality of an education administered under remote learning, and the impact this will have on future job prospects.

“I don’t want to say maybe I’m not as smart, but I’m not understanding and comprehending material as well I would be in person,” Ethan Pelkin said.

Pelkin of Crivitz is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin Madison and was struggling with statistics class.

Pelkin said it’s not worth spending the full money on tuition for distance learning.

UWGB is taking steps to help struggling students, including having professors available remotely during their office hours.

Dean of the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology John Katers does not believe students should sit out a semester or a year waiting for the return of in-person classes.

“I believe things will be closer to normal for the fall [2021] semester and so we’re trying to make every effort as we can to make face to face,” Katers said.

He added that the school expects to offer more hybrid courses this spring.

Last week, the president of the UW System board of regents pledged to Action 2 News that there will be a return of in-person classes in the spring semester.

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