BY SANDRA GUY
The knee-jerk reaction and media coverage of online education declare it as nothing less than a disaster. And there are legitimate reasons for worrying that virtual schooling leaves behind college students who live in neighborhoods with little to no Internet access. We should look for answers, such as Internet hot-spots that students could check out for free at public libraries or a concerted effort to seek donations from tech companies of improved internet services in underserved neighborhoods.
But here’s an inside scoop: If a college instructor commits to writing detailed instructions, providing multimedia resources and being available by phone to answer questions and talk through difficulties, the benefits of remote higher education can be many.
Following are a few examples of how online, virtual education using Zoom class meetings and thoughtful multimedia lessons can help all kinds of learners, including busy moms, students who otherwise must spend hours commuting and students who have been allowed to “hide out” in traditional classrooms so they never leave their comfort zone.
I can attest to these overlooked benefits because, as an adjunct professor, I’ve become convinced that online coursework can be amazingly effective and expansive:
• Greater involvement by shy or intimidated students.
When it’s time for an in-class discussion, whether of a book, a reading or a movie, the actual time available in the “real” in-person classroom is limited. Often, a few of the same students raise their hands and participate each time. Yes, the teacher can ask others to participate, but it’s often awkward.
Online, everyone posts his or her reactions on a discussion board. All of the students participate by writing their reactions. Many times, by having to think and reflect, the students reply in writing in a more thoughtful, informed and comprehensive way than blurting out something. And it gives them more writing practice.
Another positive aspect of discussion boards: Students can engage and ask questions of each other without the teacher intervening. They can have a virtual discussion in a way they can’t during a lecture.
• While it is the teachers’ responsibility to invite diverse speakers to appear at in-person classes, videos can provide access to an endless array of diverse voices. One example: Rather than ask high-risk people to engage in socially distanced interactions, I was able to incorporate into my remote journalism class a series of video interviews that my previous students had done with Chicago women who’d broken barriers and overcome obstacles to achieve great success as journalists and public relations executives.
The videos turned out to be among the most popular aspects of the online class. The students loved hearing successful women from diverse backgrounds tell their stories — even though the videos were pre-recorded and the students couldn’t ask “live” questions. Again, the pre-recorded videos gave the students room to listen – perhaps a few times – in a quiet environment and reflect on the professional’s life lessons. No pressure to impress anyone in a classroom. Just an opportunity to listen and learn.
• In good weather, students can sit outside and enjoy a beautiful day or take the class on a lunch break from work. No commute, and no expense and potential danger that a long drive on a crowded expressway can entail. Students can use some of the time they’d have sat in a car to exercise, do chores or study between classes.
• Students taking virtual classes have more control in staying safe without having to take time-consuming COVID tests (which can cost the university money that could be spent elsewhere). That’s particularly important for students who live in multiple-generation households where COVID exposure could endanger their parents, grandparents and other relatives. The virtual students also avoid the stress and worry of a COVID outbreak that would lead them to unexpectedly pack up their dorm rooms and go home if they were living on campus.
• Online classes can offer students a window into getting more creative with other online resources that may serve them well in a career, such as producing and narrating a podcast, writing a book via a remote book group, or taking a class with students from overseas. Students also learn the all-important workplace skill of honing their look and presentation skills on Zoom.
So before you automatically discount online learning, stop and reconsider. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll decide to finish your master’s or Ph.D. and find out how productive you can be at any time of the day or night with online learning.
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