One thing is definite about how higher education in the United States will appear in the autumn of 2020: online learning is here to stay. That isn’t to say there won’t be any face-to-face education. Colleges will need to allow students to engage remotely whether or not they offer some in-person training.
Despite some institutions announcing intentions to restart on-campus sessions in the autumn, this is true. Why? Despite some institutions’ splashy “we’re going to re-open!” statements, many—if not most—colleges will choose to maintain all of their fall 2020 coursework online.
Even for those who can reintroduce students to campus, new social distancing restrictions will significantly limit classroom capacity. Because classroom space was determined even before the epidemic, there is no way to give in-person education to all pupils once social distance limits are in place. Furthermore, some students will be unable or unwilling to return to college.
As a result, the traditional method of doing business, in which institutions could inform students that they were necessary to be physically present on campus and in the classroom, isn’t likely to return anytime soon.
As a result, starting in autumn 2020 and potentially long into the future, there will be two types of courses: 1) classroom-based courses with some online students, and 2) online-only courses. Both forms pose significant difficulties to higher education’s ecology.
The Difficulties Of Teaching In A Mixed Online/In-Person Class
Significant barriers arise from a mix of in-person and online engagement. While it is conceivable to optimize teaching for in-person participation and online distribution, it is not possible to optimize for both at the same time.
When an instructor interacts with students in person in a classroom, they have access to various communication tools that are just not available online. Making eye contact with specific students, watching facial emotions and body language, and altering the class speed accordingly are examples of this.
The difficulties that arise in a business meeting when some participants are seated at a conference table while others are on the phone provide a relevant comparison.
Remote participants have a significant disadvantage in terms of engagement compared to those in the room. This is why, in the pre-pandemic era, individuals were ready to spend the time and money to travel to distant towns for crucial business meetings.
Students in the classroom benefit from a course with a mix of in-person and online participants because they have more opportunities to learn than those engaging from afar. Should teachers aim to reduce this disparity, even if it means providing a less-than-ideal experience for in-person students?
Should teachers offer the most OK in-person lesson possible, even though this would invariably disadvantage distant students? There is no simple solution.
The Disadvantages Of Online Instruction
Many of the classes will be entirely online. In such instances, educators can tailor their lessons to be delivered online. However, even when provided by a dedicated and qualified instructor who is familiar with the instruments of remote teaching, online training isn’t as excellent. As I wrote in a 2011 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times:
“Words are the basis of a successful lecture or seminar, but the texture and flow come from a plethora of other subtle indications and interactions in the classroom.”
These include the dynamism that occurs because each student, sitting among different neighbors at a unique location in the room, experiences and engages with the class slightly differently, as observed by an alert instructor and used to modulate the pace and content of the discussion, the pauses and inflexions in student questions that would escape capture by a microphone, and the dynamism that occurs because each student, sitting among different neighbors at a unique location in the room, experiences and engages with the class slightly differently.
The spontaneous interactions that occur when students assemble before and after class and the sheer fact that getting to class involves at least some commitment of time and energy contribute to the effectiveness of a course. In summary, attending a well-run class in person is considerably more immersive and engaging than anything consumer technology can reasonably give now or in the foreseeable future.”
Many college students who found it more challenging to focus on their studies after the move to online learning in March 2020 aren’t being lazy; they’re simply human. A class experience restricted to a laptop screen not only creates a physical barrier, but it also creates a psychological barrier that makes it objectively more difficult to pay attention.
Will Colleges Rethink Tuition Models?
Everyone understands that when education is driven out of the classroom and onto Zoom, a lot is lost—students, professors, and college administrators alike. On the other hand, colleges appear to be unlikely to lower tuition in response, at least for the time being.
“Some or all instruction for all or part of Academic Year 2020-21 may be offered remotely,” according to the Office of the President of the ten-campus University of California system (which includes UCLA, where I teach).
Tuition and obligatory costs are determined independently of the type of teaching and will not be repaid if instruction takes place remotely for any part of the Academic Year.” “USC will hike tuition 3.5 per cent whether schools resume amid coronavirus shutdown or not,” according to a mid-May headline in the Los Angeles Times.
Colleges, however, are not the only market participants. As a result of what students perceive to be a less engaging educational experience, student demand will decline. To prevent a downward enrolment cycle, most universities (except those whose pre-pandemic applicant demand considerably exceeded the number of admissions places) will have to adjust.
Reaching a more significant number of pupils is one approach to adapt. Enrollment limitations have typically been set by the number of physical seats in a classroom for various courses. When all of the students in each class are online, the limit is no longer applicable.
Of course, online training does not negate the need for small class sizes since chances for students to engage with professors, teaching assistants, and their peers will continue to be crucial. However, for most courses, enrolment may be increased by 10-20% without significantly influencing the educational experience of students.
This would allow institutions to accept more students at a far lower per-student cost than is now the case when done at the institutional level. These savings might be passed on to students in the shape of tuition reductions.
Another way colleges can save money is through intercollegiate teaching collaboration, which might be passed on to students with lower tuition.
Why confine students to courses given by their schools when instruction is done online? Unfilled virtual seats in classes at one college might be supplied to students at another college through exchange agreements between universities with similar academic calendars.
Access to online training has become an essential part of higher education due to the pandemic. Along with the numerous issues that this has created, there are potential to make college more universally accessible and cheap.