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Uncertainty, Hunger, Hopes: Frosh and Froshmores on the Return to In-Person Learning

Main Quad, Stanford University

Hopes for help, discussion, and connection dominated in a survey of incoming frosh and returning sophomores. Two short questionnaires (conducted in early August) asked students to share their hopes and concerns, and to provide input on what they want PWR instructors to know (and to provide a list of what to hang onto as we move from remote to in-person learning). Recurring themes include a hunger for social connection (with instructors and peers), worries about lack of preparation, hopes for support and flexibility, and an overall feeling of combined excitement and trepidation (sometimes in the same sentence!). 

Resonating through most responses was a yearning for more community. One returning student noted their hope that they can “interact with professors and TA’s on a more personal level,” while others showed excitement for better “connections with classmates,” “walking to class...[and] having chit chat with friends right after.” Several students look forward to more in-depth course content, more organic discussions than feasible in Zoom-based interaction. Students also repeatedly noted their hopes that their instructors will be sensitive to their various needs (PWR lecturers should be heartened to hear that sophomore responses showed substantial optimism about continued PWR instructor support). 

On (presumed ) under-preparation: 50% of incoming frosh indicated that they feel underprepared or wholly not ready for college writing, with an additional 40% showing concern or ambivalence. Only 10% of respondents noted that they actually felt prepared. PWR course speed and intensity/balance concerns—across their larger Stanford experience—appeared multiple times. Both frosh and sophomores shared worries about rigor (especially that PWR courses “go fast” and feature long papers). Both groups mentioned feeling “rusty” and worried about “balancing everything.” The shift in educational mode haunted these responses, and an anxiety that AY 21-22 will be drastically more difficult (a recurring notion was that the remote learning year caused students to ‘get behind’). 

Some of the most interesting responses came as answers to the open-ended question “what would you hang onto from remote learning?” As expected, many (35% of respondents) specifically requested remote conferencing and office hours options, as well as ongoing flexibility and asynchronous components (25%). One surprise emerged on the ever-embattled breakout rooms: 35% of respondents specifically noted that breakout rooms (or “similar” small-group remote options) were enjoyable and helpful. One particularly useful note came from a student who noted that they are “hard of hearing” and that breakout rooms helped them immensely. Other responses showed enthusiasm for platforms for peer interaction or a “groupchat” (20%) and recorded lectures (10%). Several noted the usefulness of screen-sharing, and one student earnestly championed the increased opportunities for feedback that accompanied emergency remote teaching. 

Particularly poignant were the responses to “what do you want your PWR instructors to know?” Frosh and sophomores alike showed excitement and worry, with excitement just edging out the latter. Frosh consistently asked for support and fretted about writing long research papers. Students communicated their hunger for challenge, their willingness to “push ... to handle the rigor of Stanford academics.” Returning students noted they felt “rusty” and that they hope PWR courses will “refresh” their skills. Several also shared the hope that some accommodations (responding to their increased stress, larger social disruption, family illness) will stick through AY 21-22. 

One final note affirms what PWR knows well. A determined student expressed that they “will get into the groove soon, but an extra support at the beginning goes a long way.” A central takeaway from these surveys is simply the importance of communicating the lecturers’ readiness to meet students’ needs and aspirations. The mission ahead is one of visibility: illuminate PWR’s outreached hands and willing hearts (and, of course, brilliant curricula)—students will find the lodestar and flourish in its light. 

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