David Zheng, Senior Photographer

Whether on campus or off, all enrolled Yalies are experiencing a version of online school. 

With the misconception that attending classes and events over Zoom creates extra time and space to pile on time-consuming activities, students and professors are reflecting on what went wrong for so many and what caused this phenomenon. As the fall semester approaches its final weeks, five students who spoke to the News expressed frustrations regarding their heavy load of course work and extracurricular commitments.

The shift away from in-person engagement with classes and activities has affected the way in which students approach their time, according to John Williams, associate professor of english and film studies. 

“Our relationship to time has changed pretty dramatically in the last year,” Williams said. “We’ve given a lot of thought to how the particular medium of Zoom and the sort of changed rhythms of our lives are all part of that experience.”

In the graduate-level class he teaches, Modernity and the Time of Literature, Williams said he has observed “a kind of crunch of present existence” due to the presence of technology in our lives and its role in speeding up the human experience and altering the perception of time itself.

As technology becomes more ingrained in everyday activities, Williams believes that misconceptions about productivity have led many astray in their course planning and scheduling of time-commitments.

“There’s probably some misconception that human experience is a little bit like a computer,” Williams said. “If the assumption is ‘Well, I’d have no distractions,’ … you’re going to find that you can’t operate.”

With an overload of work, in conjunction with anxieties about the future, students are left with the sense of everything happening all at once, or what some scholars call a “present shock,” according to Williams.  

Sapheya Elhadi ’23, who is originally from Chicago but is now enrolled remotely in Doha, Qatar, described a similar change in her perception of time and the obstacle that it has posed this semester, in addition to an eight-hour time difference.

“I think that, like when you’re on campus and you come back home, you feel like you save time, like to walk up Science Hill,” Elhadi said. “I feel like this semester, this work in general has felt like it was, I guess, a greater load per class.”

On top of taking five credits this fall, including two labs that add over six hours of time online to her weekly schedule, Elhadi is deeply involved in extracurriculars. She is a volunteer with the HAVEN Free Clinic in four-hour shifts, co-leader of the events committee, Berkeley College subsection of Yale Alumni Fund Student Ambassadors, member of the Muslim Student Association and the Berkeley Seminar Interview Committee. 

As midterms and final papers approach, Elhadi is managing all of her work yet expresses that she not only feels the heavier “load” of content in her classes and other commitments but has noticed that being remote makes the semester feel even more difficult. 

“The fact that you’re doing all that individually makes it feel like there’s more work,” Elhadi said. “You don’t differentiate between like the homework and the lecture — they all feel the same.”

Ritik Chamola ’24 also described feeling overloaded in coursework. Like Elhadi, Chamola expected a virtual learning experience to be easier than it is.

The obstacles posed by online learning were evident throughout the last spring and current semester for both students and professors, ranging from becoming distracted during a Zoom lecture to having technical difficulties and gaps in communication without in-person interaction.

Robb Rutledge, professor of psychology, spoke to this general sense of distraction and lack of focus in classes, in addition to some of the anxiety caused by the pandemic and its effects on the human perception of time. As an instructor of the course, Computational Models of Human Behavior, Rutledge also commented on the trends of decision making during a time of insecurity and instability.

“Usually people are making decisions based on the values of available options, [and for many,] they’re not available anymore,” Rutledge said. “And so you’re not sure how good the new options are.”

With the lack of ability to establish distinct, permanent plans during the pandemic that can instantly alter any facet of student life, many students are struggling with decision-making and planning, according to María Wilson Núñez ’24. 

Núñez, who currently lives on campus in Jonathan Edwards College but plans on enrolling remotely from New York City in the spring, expressed her hesitation to take on a heavy load this academic year because of her uncertainty in how her classes would be conducted.

“This semester, because I know I’m not getting the full experience, the full college experience, I decided to fulfill more of my requirements, as opposed to taking classes I was, like, interested in,” Núnez said. “We can’t have the same workload and the same expectation when we’re not being given the same space to work with.”

Another student, Jakob Volan ’24, told the News that he was planning to possibly withdraw from the spring semester because he finds it difficult to fully engage in remote learning. 

Similarly, Kaise Dualeh ’24 said that if students are considering loading up with extra work in the coming year, “Don’t do it.”

Due to the condensed timeline of the second term, beginning on Feb. 1 and consisting of only five break days interspersed throughout the semester, many students are cautious about how they will approach course selection and the Dec. 18 deadline for preliminary schedules.

Although achieving equilibrium and balance in a course schedule in any given academic year is a difficult task, Rutledge said that an awareness of students’ misconceptions of time and manageable workloads is important for future semesters.

“The main challenge is just like how does everyone adjust a little bit and pay attention to what’s working and what’s not working,” Rutledge said. “We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves.”

Classes for the spring semester will begin on Feb. 1 and end on May 7, with Commencement planned for May 24. 

Amelia Lower | amelia.lower@yale.edu