Photo by Jack Morris
The flexibility and convenience of online schooling is evident to anyone who has taken college classes in the past year, but some aspects of classroom learning suffer significantly in an online format. Can we provide the quality of a traditional classroom setting while maintaining maximum convenience and accessibility?
At community colleges, where a large portion of the instructors are adjuncts, convenience could be the path to optimal class models. These could be classes that blend high-quality traditional in-person instruction with an online environment. Mark Harvey, who teaches a synchronous digital publication design class at Glendale Community College, prefers a blend of both.
“As an adjunct, I work at four schools, and driving between them daily is extremely time-consuming and tiring. I lose so much time on the road that could be devoted to actual school work or course material development,” Harvey said. “I enjoy in-person teaching and feel it is very important to have some direct contact with students, and for students to be able to have a direct dialogue with one another. Hybrid is the best of both, or the closest to it.”
However, the effectiveness of online classes can vary widely and be affected by many factors, so it really comes down to how those involved feel about remote learning.
Studies from the higher-education nonprofit EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research indicate that about 70% of students and 73% of instructors surveyed prefer an in-person format. Nine percent of students preferred an online format, but those were mostly students who have dependents, work more than 40 hours a week, or are over 25 years old. It is safe to say that the most attractive thing about online schooling is the convenience.
Preference for online schooling can vary widely depending on the area of study, with some more affected than others. For example, classes on subjects such as introductory statistics or economics saw little to no changes in the coursework when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a move from in-person instruction to an online format. Other classes, most notably within the arts, have seen drastic changes in what is covered throughout a semester.
At GCC, prior to the pandemic, a student in Photography 101 would spend half the semester on digital photography and the other half in the dark room, learning to process film. This is not possible when campus facilities are unavailable. Portfolios and other projects that students would physically create and share in person with peers are now sometimes created only digitally and only shared in photos or over Zoom, undeniably affecting the course as a whole.
Many students wonder whether it’s worth it to pay for and attend classes in a virtual format. Like many colleges, GCC has not reduced tuition or fees since transitioning online, according to the tuition office.
According to a survey of more than 13,500 students conducted by study guide platform OneClass, 93% of students say tuition should be lowered if classes are held fully online. This opinion has been reflected in the extreme drops in enrollment rates of public two-year colleges. Term enrollment estimates published by National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found a 10.1% decrease in enrollment in the fall 2020 term, more than double the drop seen in any of the previous four years.
Some students have sued their institutions for refunds, claiming that they are no longer receiving all the services they have paid for.
The hasty transition to an online format that most college students experienced as early as March 2020 is not necessarily an accurate representation of the capabilities of online schooling. Harvey is optimistic about what could come of online classroom environments when given the proper consideration.
“I think the potential is there for any mode to be successful. This transition period has been awkward because so much had to be translated to an online format so quickly. I think it’s safe to say it’s an uneven experience for all involved. Once things are set up I think the potential of online education has yet to be truly fulfilled.”
Jack Morris can be reached at [email protected]