How remote learning will shape the future of college attendance

Online attendance provides students with fewer resources a chance for equal learning opportunities

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Parker Peters / Daily Collegian

By Srija Nagireddy, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

There is a palpable feeling of joy on campus as in-person classes return and pre-pandemic normalcy is closer than it’s ever seemed. Though exciting, our expectations for this return ignore one key fact: the undeniable benefits of online learning.

One such benefit was increased access to all University of Massachusetts course components, a mark of progress now threatened with the return to in-person learning.

Over the last two semesters, recorded lectures and online office hours quickly became the norm, providing flexibility to students and access to resources at any time that was most convenient for them. The increased ease of recording Zoom-based lectures, as well as the acknowledgment of time-zone difficulties and other such situations led to more availability in terms of recorded class content. Students were no longer constrained by the rigid and defined schedules of lecture times, as they were afforded a new opportunity to watch recordings at their own pace and time.

As for office hours, access became as simple as clicking a Zoom link to enter, creating a more viable and convenient option for students to approach teaching staff with questions. Rather than having to physically travel across campus to the professor’s office, attending these online sessions afforded clear advantages in respect to accessibility.

Many of the privileges of online learning have carried over into this semester as well, but this relies on the discretion of individual faculty rather than a set policy making these measures a requirement. With the continuing concern of new COVID-19 variants, some have chosen to continue with these online components in the courses that still offer them. Thus, only some students continue to benefit from these remote learning options, while for others this means a return to pre-COVID conditions in all aspects. The mindset that a return to campus must mean a return to strict in-person attendance for all academic-related activities is a dangerous one, and one that threatens this new level of accessibility.

If the virus is ever controlled, what will happen to these online resources that could be repurposed for students taking sick days? The possibility of professors removing such content is worrisome, and steps need to be taken to preserve the progress made. With the exceptions of exams, course staff should not require mandatory in-person attendance for any lecture-based class and instead make all of the recordings available online. Lecture recordings have incredible uses, and the argument that they aren’t sufficient alternatives to in-person instruction does not hold weight.

The catalog of online classes is robust enough to make virtual learning a very viable option for students from all backgrounds, opening up avenues to learn through less traditional mediums. These goals are headed in the right direction but UMass can’t stop now, especially as the pandemic rages on.

There is a also a large accessibility problem for classes that require in-person attendance for participatory credit. These issues are not avant-garde issues and disability advocates have been addressing the challenges of in-person classes for years now. Disabilities are not static, and the needs of disabled people can vary from day to day. With the option of watching lecture recordings during off days, disabled students would be able to make choices regarding attendance that fit their needs best.

Regardless of your personal situation, the ability to watch lectures at any time provides an accessible way for students to keep up with the material in a way that works best for them. Students should not have to sacrifice their learning for a professor’s standards of the only acceptable mode of learning.

Mandatory attendance for lectures seems overbearing at this point and students are at a point in their academic careers where they should not be penalized for making their own academic decisions. A professor strongly recommending students attend class is one thing, but measuring attendance in ways such as iClicker questions is wrong. Removing the concessions made during remote learning overlooks  the difficulties faced by students outside of the pandemic.

The opportunities afforded by office hours provide students a way to form relationships with faculty and gain a deeper understanding of the material, a key resource that makes our college education vastly important and unique. If not the professors themselves, one of the TAs or undergraduate course assistants can facilitate these online office hours, ensuring those who are unable to complete the physical trek to the office can also have their questions answered.

What online education ultimately took away from us is given back in its promise for the future of remote learning. We know what needs to be worked towards and preserving the progress already made is key in realizing this.

Srija Nagireddy can be reached at [email protected]