It’s not just you – online classes are a challenge

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In preparation for students returning to the fall semester, the University of Northern Colorado introduced a Re-Entry Task Force. Their mission was to prepare virtual learning options for classes. UNC shifted the majority of its classes online to keep as many students off-campus as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Gannon Rothman.

Synchronous learning is hot right now. But the debate over whether it can offer a sufficient education for students across the country is like a civil war.

In preparation for students returning to the fall semester, the University of Northern Colorado introduced a Re-Entry Task Force. Their mission was to prepare virtual learning options for classes. But is this type of education sustainable? 

UNC shifted the majority of its classes online to keep as many students off-campus as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19. Another delivery method includes the hybrid format where classes are taught both online and in-person. 

For many students, online learning is the new normal. Professors use videoconferencing for this approach, Zoom being a favorable medium. 

This online approach in our learning environment is new but viewed as the most efficient way to teach in a pandemic. The disadvantage is the loss of engagement.  

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“There are some obvious limitations to what we’re doing in remote delivery,” David Staton said, an assistant professor of the Journalism and Media Studies department at UNC. “There’s sort of this silver lining to this instruction that we’re doing now. How do we best do it? How do we make it the most engaging that we can?”

Ironically, in this digital age of social engagement, students are appalled by an education system taught on a computer screen. 

In most cases, people value the relationship between the teacher and the student. That’s a challenge when having classes through Zoom. Professors are questioning how to get the same impact in their online classes. 

“How do we get that engagement factor? That’s the million-dollar question,” Staton said. 

The balance is never right either, as students will miss the social life on campus. 

“There is no socializing and you do not have the best communication with your professors like you would in an in-person class,” said Tori Hogan, a senior at UNC.

An advantage is the flexibility in a student’s schedule on when to complete coursework. Some students may get a few extra hours a week without the need to drive to campus. 

A successful online education plan comes from the support of students and the ability of professors to adapt. The “learning by doing” approach that students have come to appreciate has been eaten away. 

“The biggest upside is the reconsideration of the purpose of what a teacher does,” Staton said. 

UNC offers a survey asking students about their experience with the transitioning process towards the fall semester. 

Unfortunately, the constant disconnection of the synchronous learning experience is the major downfall and distaste for many students and professors. While this education style is not for everyone, this method cannot be the future for the success of students in an era of social demand. 

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