Students prepare for hybrid finals as semester nears end


Clare Sheedy | Assistant Visual Editor

Emily Vogt, left, a first-year biology major, studies for her biology final and a biology quiz while her friend Alex Markunas, an undeclared first year, catches up on her neuroscience notes at Hillman Library on Friday evening.

By Clare Sheedy, Contributing Editor

Pitt students prepared this time last year to take finals at home and behind a screen. The COVID-19 pandemic forced students and professors to acclimate to online learning. With the semester ending next week, students are studying at home, alone and in campus buildings. Finals this year are in person, online and some offer a hybrid option.

Alex Markunas, an undeclared first-year, said she has one final in person this semester — the rest are projects she will submit online. Markunas said she prefers in-person class and finals, but appreciates hybrid options.

“I think it’s convenient that we’ve had online options this whole year,” Markunas said. “It’s easy to just join a Zoom during office hours and get help on something than it is to physically go to someone’s office, but I think it’s nice that we also have the option for in-person class time.” 

Emily Vogt, a first-year biology major, agreed and added that she prefers in-person finals. She said she finds the inconsistency between in person and online expectations difficult to manage.

“I feel like it can be kind of hard for people to switch back and forth between in person and online because online exams I feel are different than pencil and paper,” Vogt said. “Everyone’s different, though.”

Jason Buffer, a graduate student in the medical school’s biomedical master’s program, said he also finds the inconsistency difficult to manage. He said he prefers online finals and has three hybrid-optional finals this semester. 

“We take our laptops to class to take the final, so that’s the consistency where you know you’re taking the same feel of the test — not a paper versus online,” Buffer said. “As long as there’s that consistency and it’s in whatever environment you feel most comfortable in, that’s fine.”

Buffer took his first online final during his undergraduate years at Pitt, and said while he was worried at first, he now prefers that option. He said it doesn’t make sense to him to take his laptop to class just to take the same test he would take on his laptop at home. 

Shalini Jose, another graduate student in the medical school’s biomedical master’s program, said she “definitely” prefers online finals and classes — especially with the spread of the new omicron COVID-19 variant.

“I definitely prefer online, especially with it getting colder and with the new variant. I feel more comfortable doing it online,” Jose said. “There was one student who actually had COVID in our class and that put everyone at risk. So for that entire period I was just like, it’s not fair that we have to show up for class.”

Though Jose and Buffer both prefer online finals, they plan to go in person for the class they take together because they don’t trust the professor will run a smooth hybrid option. 

“I think we’d all prefer virtual but since the professors are not really adequate in using it and not consistent we feel forced to do the in-person version,” Jose said. “We just don’t trust it’ll work.”

Emily Yeh, junior psychology and anthropology major, said she feels prepared for finals and prefers hybrid options for her classes. Yeh has two online finals and a final essay she will turn in online this semester.

“I prefer a hybrid,” Yeh said. “It’s easier to focus in class in person but online exams don’t stress me out as badly because it’s more of a personal experience.”

Montez Newsome, a junior mathematics and economics major, agreed and said he also finds in-person exams stressful.

“I did really well when finals were given to me as a take-home test — less stress,” Newsome said. “In-class finals are always weird, especially if it’s cumulative, it’s really overwhelming.”

While Newsome prefers online exams, he — like Yeh — also prefers in-person classes. He said it’s easier for him to participate.

“I actually like in-person classes more than doing it online at home. They both have their pros and cons but the best thing about in-person classes is you really can’t ask certain questions if it’s strictly online,” Newsome said. “You can’t really give a certain insight unless you know how to really ask a precise question and a lot of people don’t. It’s hard to ask the right question sometimes, especially online.”

While Yeh and Newsome prefer online exams, Markunas prefers in person. She said it’s because it’s easier for her to focus.

“Projects I think are fine online because those you just work on on your own time,” Markunas said. “But I personally prefer in-person exams. I think it’s just easier to focus and get it done.”

Yeh said compared to previous semesters, preparing for this year’s finals feels different. She said it could be because she switched from a health science major to psychology and anthropology majors but, to her, it seems everyone treats final exams as less reliable.

“To me, it seems that even the teachers are fed up with exams. Just the general attitude towards them seems a bit different … I guess they’re considered less reliable,” she said.

Unlike Yeh, Vogt and Markunas didn’t experience college before the pandemic. They said for their first semester at Pitt, they’re grateful to be able to meet and study in person.

Jose and Buffer, who studied together at Hillman Library on Friday evening, said they’re not sure how they’d be able to make it through the semester without meeting on campus in person. Jose said their program “is more focused on presentations and group projects and that required a lot of in-person work.”

Vogt said she doesn’t know how, as a science major, she’d be able to handle her course load completely online.

“I think it would’ve been a lot more difficult if it were online. Especially with the course load and everything,” Vogt said. “I’m a science major and I think it’s just hard to do that all online.”

Studying in Hillman Library together on Friday evening, Vogt and Markunas availed themselves of online resources to prepare for their final exams. Vogt studied for her biology exam using online resources posted on Canvas, while Markunas caught up on Zoom lectures she missed after Thanksgiving break.

“A bunch of classes went online for the first couple days after Thanksgiving break,” Markunas said. “I missed some Zooms and I’m catching up on those now.”

Jose and Buffer on Friday evening tried to decipher a recording their classmate sent them of a recent lecture while they waited for their professor to upload an official recording.

“The last presentation hasn’t been posted. One of the students recorded his entire presentation but it sounds horrible. We’re just trying to figure out where the presentation is at this point,” Buffer said. “We just got started studying for the final. We’re kind of getting to the point where we’re mapping out everything we need to know.”