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Commentary: Online classes can’t replace in person learning

COVID— I’m tired of it, you’re tired of it. Most everyone is sick of hearing about the pandemic in the news, wearing masks and listening to goofy people argue about whether or not there are actually GPS government tracking devices in the vaccines. (Obviously there are, lol.) The fact is, though, that last year was pretty brutal for every single one of us in some way or another— and that is alright to talk about from time to time.

Whether you’re a freshman coming off a senior year of event cancellations and Zoom classes or you’re an upperclassman coming off a couple years of “going to college” from your hometown bedroom, I think I speak for everyone when I say that I am happy to see things getting back to normal. We are able to be together on campus, socialize with new people, and get back to participating in clubs and activities… however…

There is one aspect of our crazy 2020 that still lingers: the good… the easy… the evil… Online class!!?!? (cue screaming with with simultaneous jazz hands)

Despite the fact that all students and teachers are back on campus full-time, many of Drake’s classes continue to use online formats. Some professors are switching back and forth between online and in-person, others schedule periodic online “practice” classes, and others just flat-out still hold the majority of their classes online. Of course, it is great that professors have the ability to switch their class online when last-minute safety concerns arise… but how do Drake students feel when their professors just host a class online for the sole purpose of preference?

I decided to poll Drake students to find out.

Of the twenty-some students (a mix of genders and grades, first-year through junior) that agreed to take my anonymous questionnaire, 68.8% reported that they preferred to take their college classes in-person. Only 6.3% reported that they preferred taking their classes online, and the remaining 25% said they had no preference. Despite some people’s preferences, only one person who filled out the survey felt that they “learned better” in an online setting vs. an in-person setting… everyone else reported that they learned better in-person.

The next part of my questionnaire asked participants to indicate which problems they do or don’t face in their online classes versus in-person classes. 100% of people who answered this portion reported that they feel “It is too easy to get distracted” during an online class, whereas only 18.2% reported feeling this way in in-person class. 86.7% of participants reported feeling that “It is difficult to get involved in class discussion” and “It is difficult to answer the teacher’s questions” in an online class, whereas only 18.2% feel it is difficult to get involved in in-person discussion and 45.5% feel it is difficult to answer teachers’ in-person questions.

In the last part of my questionnaire, I asked people if they had any last “burning remarks” about online vs. in-person classes. One student said, “Online classes lose the sense of a personalized approach to education, and it is much more difficult for me to get engaged and stay engaged in an online class discussion.” Another student said that, although they “wouldn’t be extremely upset if some of [their] classes switched to online, … [they] didn’t learn as much doing online classes last year.”

Though everyone’s opinions and preferences on online classes differ, I think one participant’s remark says it best: “College students attending an in-person university came here to be immersed in their academics, not sit in their room on their phones while the lecture is in-session… If the school has the capability and resources, they should take initiative to provide in-person classes. #speakingfromtheheart” 

Many people are here at an in-person university because they’re ready to ditch the distractions and low-motivation of the online classroom and be in an environment where they can truly learn. Hopefully our professors feel ready to give us that same commitment… face to face, not screen to screen.

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