SINCE THE BEGINNING of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been clear that the future of education is uncertain. Because the virus spreads through respiratory droplets, it became imperative early on to switch to hybrid learning to prevent the airborne transmission of COVID-19. And while hybrid learning is not ideal for many, it certainly has its advantages.
When you are attending class virtually, you can wake up and sit in front of your computer and be in class almost instantly. Additionally, Zoom breakout rooms are very ideal for group work since students do not have to fumble around the classroom trying to physically form groups. However, it is harder to focus in a virtual classroom. This year, my brain has struggled to retain information because I have often been sitting in the same chair looking at the same screen for hours. Internet connectivity issues further add to the struggle. Hybrid learning can also be very challenging when you have in-person classes because it takes time for both the professors and the students to log onto Zoom and prepare the classroom.
Furthermore, hybrid learning lacks the same level of human connection we had before the pandemic started. Human connection is crucial for personal growth and learning as we improve our interpersonal skills and see things from different perspectives thanks to those around us. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and improve our immune systems. It is true that virtual classes can be more accessible to students who have disabilities or who struggle with mental health issues, as they have the option to attend classes from their homes. However, this option also decreases daily physical activity, which is vital for our health, unless we choose to engage in physical activities such as sports, dance or yoga.
One of the most absurd parts of hybrid learning for me has been the fact that for the first time, after being at Lewis & Clark for three years, I know everyone’s face and name in my classes. Having class on Zoom helps you become familiar with everyone in the class as long as they have their cameras on. Ironically, however, it also prevents people from interacting casually before and after classes.
Despite the accessibility and advantages of hybrid learning, it seems to me that the majority of people would prefer to go to in-person classes once the pandemic is over. Regardless of the pandemic’s status next semester, LC has decided to resume in-person classes next fall. I think this is great news as everyone will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine no later than April 19 in the United States. According to Vox, the vaccines do not provide 100% protection, but they prevent hospitalizations. Considering that the vaccines are free, and thus accessible, LC has strong justification for switching back to in-person learning.
I expect that students would be reluctant to keep logging onto Zoom and pointing their cameras at their faces once everyone is vaccinated. However, offering online classes would be accommodating for those who struggle to come to class in person. It could also be used as a tool for social justice, if colleges take a step to make education more affordable, which could make the student body more diverse by opening the door for students of various socioeconomic backgrounds. However, the decision ultimately lies in how much colleges are willing to change their financial inflow by making higher education more affordable and whether they see any benefit in doing so.
Even if LC switches back to having in-person classes next semester, more accommodating options can be offered to students such as letting them watch classes rather than being physically present. Such options were already offered to students in big schools such as the University of California, Berkeley even before the start of the pandemic. Similar structures can be adopted at LC for classes that could act as pilots. If students do not attend classes and learn as much as the ones that do, which could be measured by success in assignments and exams, then we would know for sure that class attendance is not always needed for success.
Both semesters this year, I have experienced my professors sending us video recordings rather than having classes on certain days. I like this because it gives us ample time to work on our assignments, rather than perpetuating the outdated and inefficient notion that we always need more time in class to learn. This might have been true two or three decades ago, but today we have the internet and databases that we could individually learn from. Classes serve as places of gathering for discussion, group work and practicing our presentation skills, but we do not need to learn everything there. We just need to know that things exist, and we need to learn how to process and use data as well as learning certain technical skills that need to be explained to us. Having classes when it is necessary, and providing extra time for students when it is not, would surely help us learn more and better. I would even say that it would help us be more innovative by taking us out of a monotone structure, and by giving us more time to think about life and what we want to do with it.
We still do not know how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the future of education. Although we are heading towards a more digital higher education system, colleges must bring back the human aspects imperative to the college experience once the pandemic is over. This should be partnered with a more flexible way of looking at higher learning where students not only acquire the necessary skills in class, but also have ample time to practice and learn from other sources in an experiential fashion.
This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log, its editorial board or those interviewed for background information.