The Coronavirus Outbreak and the Challenges of Online Classes

By Lenny Ford

Posted:

Category: General


The outbreak of the new coronavirus COVID-19 has changed our lives, and educational institutions across the country have had to close their campuses. Nationwide closures are impacting over 91% of the world’s student population – now united by the same challenge to adapt to remote learning. And now, education institutions strive to find ways to help students complete their coursework. Reducing the number of interactions in-person and on campuses will decrease the risk of spreading the new virus. The virtual world has many possibilities we can utilize to transform teaching and learning online and spread the knowledge as we would in no-corona reality. But changes always bring issues, and there are many obstacles educational professionals and students face because of the new reality.

In addition to traditional classes, e-learning has been an option for students at many universities across the globe. But most of the students prefer learning on campus for several reasons. E-learning, although there are many software applications to make it more interactive, for many students, isn’t as engaging as traditional classes are. Besides, physically going away from home is another experience for students where they make friends and find support and motivation in their new communities. If students need to go back home and switch to online learning, for some, it means less privacy and more problems. It also means an imperfect remote learning environment because let’s face it: Not all universities and professors were ready for this significant turn of events.

School and College Students Are Not at High Risk of Getting Severely Sick, but They May Spread the Virus to Their Communities

When the first schools and universities in the U.S. closed, many criticized these institutions because of the decision. Although school or college students are not at high risk of getting severely ill with the new COVID-19, they might spread the virus to communities, and it’ll be impossible to follow the rules of social distancing if the campuses are open. As of March 17, 2020, 489 schools or school districts in the U.S. have closed in response to COVID-19, and 22 schools or school districts were planning to close, according to Statista.

Tuition Costs and Refunds

Many college students have been furiously asking for a refund of tuition costs because they paid for in-person classes, not online studies. Students think having a class using Zoom isn’t the same as having a traditional class.

Around 900 students signed a petition for refunds at The Wharton School, where tuition costs can be up to $160,000 for a two-year degree program. Students have signed a similar petition at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, which can cost $150,000 for a two-year MBA program.

The tuition costs in the U.S. are relatively high or, in fact, higher than in any other country in the world. There are many reasons behind high tuition costs in the country, such as increased demand for higher education, politics, economics, and costs the universities have – salaries, maintenance, the equipment, transportation, and other expenses to maintain the facilities.

“A student’s obligation to pay tuition and ancillary items is based on the contract. From a purely legal perspective, an institution’s tuition and enrollment contracts, if any, as well as its policies and procedures, provide the proper starting point in evaluating a refund request.”

– writes Stradley Ronon

Universities might continue teaching online, but what about the fees for services like housing and a meal plan? Some services cannot move to the virtual world. In an ongoing lawsuit between students and Liberty University, students demand to get these fees back. When many colleges across the country required students to vacate dorms, Liberty allowed students to stay so that students would have an option to use the paid services. But most of the students decided to leave anyway. The meal plan at the university costs $4,450, and the housing ranges between $4,750 and $8,000, according to CBS News.

Harvard University, Smith College, Tufts University, and Duke University in North Carolina said they would give a refund for unused room and board on a prorated basis. Harvard officials have told students the school will help those with financial issues buy a bus, train, or plane ticket home, according to MarketWatch. But it is most unlikely that students will receive refunds for tuition fees.

“As long as instruction continues, tuition will not be refunded.”

Harvard

Universities need to budget accordingly, so once the pandemic is over, they can reopen their doors and go back to the regular teaching environment. Many educational institutions had to cut salaries as they already saw a loss in revenue.

“A lot of colleges simply can’t afford to give refunds,” said Robert Kelchen, a Seton Hall University professor who studies financial access to higher education. “They don’t have the extra money to do that when they are still paying their employees.”

– in an article by incomeloopholes.com

A website collegerefund2020.com collects information from students who paid for the on-campus experience but had to switch to online learning. Once students fill out the form, one of the attorneys from the Anastopoulo Law Firm will contact them and work on their case.

Possible Downsides of Online Classes

Another issue connected to virtual learning is that, when a University offers an e-learning program, they build it to be online whereas they designed traditional programs for classroom learning. This rapid change means that professors who structured the syllabus need to move what they planned for the classroom to the online environment in a drastically short time. This change also means that online lectures aren’t prerecorded, and for maximum engagement, professors use video conference applications where students are listening to a lecturer live.

Because students also are in a new reality, it might be difficult to be online at certain times. It is also challenging to find a perfect time when there are international students in the class. Before the closure of borders, many students decided to return to their home countries. If a class usually starts at 9 am, now, for some students in the other parts of the world, it means going online at 2 am.

Additionally, some classes need in-person interaction more than others and might also require special equipment and resources that neither professors nor students will have at home. If we look at the graduate film program at NYU, for instance, the description reads the following:

“Students learn by doing, in the classroom and on set. They write, direct, and produce multiple films and exercises, shooting and crewing on each other’s projects. Our students transition into the professional world with a reel of short films that showcase their talent, a feature film script, and a range of highly sought technical skills.”

As you see, the description includes words “classroom” and “on set,” but starting on March 22, NYU moved to online classes and remote teaching, meaning students will not have access to classrooms or sets.

If you teach world history, it’d be easier to transform a traditional class to the virtual world, because in theory, you could do everything you do in the class, online. With software applications, you can make a presentation, share files, chat during the class, etc. The difference is the experience, student engagement, and the lack of in-person interaction.

But when it comes to classes like cinematography, students want to physically use the equipment worth several thousand dollars that, otherwise, they would have no chance to touch. Most likely, professors don’t even have those cameras at home to present during the online class. The solution would be looking at a tutorial online in the virtual class and the professor giving instructions on the use of the equipment – in theory. Many might argue: But the cinematography is not only about the equipment – it’s also about framing, the theory of film, shot design, etc. That’s true. But in most scenarios, film schools are the place where students pay to make films at school, use the equipment, and most importantly make mistakes that they will not be able to make in Hollywood.

Not all majors are the same, and while it’s easy for some professors to adjust to the new reality for fields such as Performing Arts, Film and Television, Dentistry, Music, etc., it is quite challenging to deliver classes online. Again, many might argue that all these fields can exist in the virtual world with much success. Yes, that’s true. But, would you want to be the first passenger of a driver who learned driving online? Although he might become the best driver in the city, because of the lack of practical experience, not many people would want to be the first passengers. And once we get back to our regular lives, not many directors may want to work with cinematographers who learned how to use the camera through online instructions – until they gain practical knowledge. And for most of the students, a university is where they get hands-on experience.

Besides, a report by Brookings Institution suggests that students taking online courses “perform substantially worse than students in traditional in-person courses and that experience in these online courses impacts performance in future classes and the likelihood of dropping out of college as well.

Online Classes for Medical Students

For a medical student, the culmination of medical studies might be exposed to the patients in order to gain more practical knowledge. But in the corona reality, it became impossible for medical students to complete their studies in a traditional environment, and the most exciting part of their studies has moved online.

“As countries across the globe went into quarantine, medical schools have been highly affected by the current outbreak. The pandemic has put medical students worldwide away from their classes and clinical training.”

International Federation of Medical Students’ Association.

Although it might be disappointing for future doctors, there is no alternative way to deal with the issue and they have to accept the new reality.

“There is no alternative. It’s been forced upon them. It’s nobody’s doing that we are here and every medical school in the country is dealing with disruption to their educational structure. The shortage of PPE is among the key factors for their non-engagement in the clinical environment and student safety is at the forefront of every school’s mind.”

Senthil Rajasekaran, MD, a Senior Associate Dean for undergraduate medical education at Wayne State University School of Medicine.

To be able to engage in the clinical environment, students should be protected from getting the new virus. But there is a global shortage of PPE, and we should reserve medical masks for medical professionals who treat infected patients with COVID-19.

Dental institutions have also moved classroom instructions online. The safety of students is the priority, and during the pandemic, it becomes impossible to conduct dental training – especially when dental practices across the country have to close.

“While working locally, our leaders are thinking globally to ensure the core principles consistent with providing education and oral health care. The dental education community moves forward during this unprecedented worldwide challenge according to our underlying values and practices.”

American Dental Education Association

Distractions during Online Classes

Another downside of online classes is the distractions students have at home that they wouldn’t have in a classroom.

“Over the course of the three-hour workshop, I noticed my puffy eyes on the panel of faces and became self-conscious. I turned off my video. I became distracted with the noise of sirens outside and muted my speaker, only to then realize: by the time you’re done muting-and-unmuting, the right moment to join the conversation has already passed. I found myself texting on my computer, stepping away to make coffee, running to the bathroom, writing a couple of emails, and staring at my classmate’s dog in one of the video panels.

– Writes Oshiko Lwai, a student from Japan at Columbia University.

With online classes, students in the same virtual classroom have different realities. Some might be distracted by the noise of sirens, some by a neighbor’s cat outside of the window or an infant at home.

Also, some students may not have a reliable internet connection that online classes require, and it becomes difficult for them to catch up with virtual classmates. Not all of them have monitors big enough to have a pleasant learning experience. There might be students who don’t even own a computer at home.

And lastly, the experience is different. Students don’t have to travel to the university, which saves time, money, and energy. But traveling to a location is somehow a warmup for getting started. Just like a workout needs a bit of stretching, studying needs mental preparedness. And, usually, commuting to the classroom is what prepares students for their classes. Jumping out of bed and taking a seat in front of the computer might lower students’ energy and motivation for studying.

Although there are many problems when it comes to moving classes online, there are many pros to virtual learning:

  • You save time, which you would have to spend on traveling from place to place.
  • You can travel to other parts of the world while enrolled at the university (in a no-corona reality).
  • You don’t need to leave your home country or city if you don’t wish to.
  • Flexibility in your schedule, which gives you more time to work on your projects.
  • No expenses for services such as housing and meal plans.
  • No travel expenses.
  • And most importantly, no spread of deadly viruses.

Are Online Classes the Future?

If Universities across the country can successfully deliver education through the internet because of the quarantine, will it impact the future of education in the United States? And will it possibly decrease the tuition fees in the future? The price students pay for college usually includes fees for housing, meals, books, board, etc. So remote learning might save about $7,000 per quarter. However, it is unlikely that online learning will reduce tuition fees. Even before COVID-19 changed our lives, many universities offered online degree programs and the tuition wasn’t much cheaper for those as opposed to traditional courses.

“I think what is going to change here is that schools are being forced to make the change that they need to make because in the background there’s been this huge market shift where people have realized that we have these communication tools… This is waking people up and making them modernize their approach to instruction.”

Jean-Pierre Guittard, CEO, and founder of iTeach.world

Some majors that don’t require hands-on experience might successfully move to the virtual world. Probably, universities will try to keep the traditional classes going while including e-learning programs as an option for students who want to learn from home. But to see the changes COVID-19 will have on education, we need to wait for the pandemic to be over. Let’s hope it will only improve the quality of education by implementing advanced technology into the curriculums.



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