Photo courtesy of Sophia Angele-Kuehn.
As COVID-19 continues to disrupt daily life, there is nothing to do but look to the future. For the first time, in a long time, adults are eagerly waiting on a chance to go back to work, and students desperately miss the class time they used to take for granted. As each day passes, there is a cloud of uncertainty that hangs over every American’s head. For students of colleges and universities across the United States, there is a growing concern that online classes will continue into the Fall.
Since the COVID-19 epidemic made in-person schooling a viable health risk, a majority if not all major institutions have moved their learning online. At Connecticut College, professors have been using a mix of Google Hangouts, Cisco Webex, and Zoom to conduct their online courses. This transition was made as an emergency measure, so it is hard to fairly judge the effectiveness of online classes at this point. Most professors I have interacted with have admitted that online classes are not as effective as in-class learning, and many have followed with the sentiment that the teaching they have been doing is draining.
At this point online learning is still new, so I can understand that there are kinks that have to be worked out. Teachers must learn how to effectively use online platforms to create conducive learning environments. Simultaneously, students must figure out how to learn effectively without the same environment they are usually provided. Unfortunately, I think online learning is unsustainable and would be extremely disappointed if this education method continued into the Fall.
The first issue is already prevalent. Online learning is inherently unfair. Not every student has equal access to technologies that make online education possible. Due to the immediate need for a reaction from the school when the pandemic began to spread, I think it was the responsible decision to move class online. It was just about the only thing the school could do in order to continue classes this semester. I was also pleased with the follow up accomodations that the school made as the pandemic situation continued to unfold. Allowing students to take courses satisfactory/unsatisfactory and returning some tuition were important steps, but if online learning has to continue Connecticut College’s administration has to do more to maintain an equal playing field for all students.
I am not trying to say that Connecticut College’s administration isn’t working hard, but I am asking them to consider a few things. First, if classes move online for the Fall, the student body should be charged a fee that is closer to the cost of an online college, instead of our full tuition. Part of the consideration for lowering tuition should come from the loss of community, which is invaluable to the learning environment created by Connecticut College. This community includes what I like to call “between the lines” learning that has happened in every one of my classes at Conn. “Between the lines” learning is the knowledge you gain from discussing class material in person with your peers, both inside and outside class. Unfortunately, it is unrealistic that tuition can be cut substantially because the school will still have salaries and other assorted fees to pay.
Another part of the physical campus that will have to move online is counseling. Right now there is a contingency plan in place. However, many counseling services only apply to Connecticut residents and students currently living on campus as “health providers, by law, are not permitted to cross state lines.” In an email from Janet Spoltore, Director of Counseling and Health Services, on March 17, it was explained that students out-of-state are not able to receive counseling, and care would be limited to “consultations, referrals, and mental health education.” This means that out of state students cannot continue counseling appointments, leaving them without the critical support they need. If online classes continue in the Fall, there will have to be a plan to get students the help they need. Student Counseling Services is important to the well being of students who are dealing with the stress and other emotional burdens of school and life, and expecting someone to excel without this necessary support is unrealistic as well as unfair. If Connecticut College’s goal is to enable students to succeed both in academics and in life, then coming up with an organized remote student health system is critical.
Another thing Conn has to consider is the effectiveness of the online classes they are offering, and how they will integrate into regular classes once the school gets back to that. For one, some classes, such as labs, involve a physical component that you can’t replicate at home. This isn’t only a short term issue either, without the proper instruction and repetition, it becomes harder for a student to take more advanced classes down the line in undergraduate and graduate studies. The lack of cohesion caused by the online classes could lead to complications further down the line for the college and students alike.
For now, the outlook is murky. No one has any real idea of whether or not schools will bring students back to campus in the Fall. As a short term solution, online class has worked as well as you could expect, but if this type of learning has to continue, then we must see improvements in the ways students learn and an expansion of the virtual college community.