The week of January 24, students at Case Western Reserve University saw the return of in-person classes. Many students welcomed this step towards normalcy. But for some, the lure of attending online Zoom classes in their pajamas from the warmth of their dorms has dampened the excitement. There are clearly mixed feelings among CWRU students between online and in-person learning.
Now let’s get to the real question: is one or the other form of learning superior to the other? Or is it just a personal preference? I hope to provide an honest and unbiased “review” of both types of learning, with the aim of encouraging students to see both the positives and negatives of both mediums.
Given that we started the semester with online learning, it seems logical to first discuss this new and controversial form of learning.
Benefits – Online Courses
The added manageability of our busy student schedules is arguably the most attractive attribute of online courses. With recorded lectures and no wasted time walking to Case Quad, students have a much easier time adjusting to their hobbies and sports or even just hanging out with friends.
Increased class engagement
A rather shocking benefit of online courses that we all discovered when switching to Zoom was the higher number of questions asked by students. This was, at least in part, due to the removal of the intimidation of raising your hand in front of your peers, with Zoom chat now a compelling option. Instead of having 350 students all staring at you, expecting a profound statement, anyone can ask any question without fear of judgment. Being behind a screen brought in a plethora of students who just needed that little extra push.
For many students, sitting among hundreds of peers for over an hour feels like a nightmare when it comes to focusing and being productive. Focusing on organic chemistry is hard enough when the people behind you are trying to resolve a long debate about what shoes to buy or are discussing the best Saturday night plans. Online learning provides an escape from these inconveniences, and many students welcome it with open arms.
Disadvantages – Online Courses
An insurmountable beast for most students, procrastination makes its appearance, especially when the classroom is replaced by the dormitory. The indirect or direct motivation to be around other students is taken for granted until online classes take it away. How can we be expected to motivate ourselves when we don’t have that support?
Requirement for independence and self-motivation
The need to actually manage yourself is the most devastating aspect of online school. Absent face-to-face interactions with faculty and peers, students are left to fend for themselves in the treacherous sea of Canvas, with the dreaded “to-do” list as their only company. It’s up to us to make schedules and weed out distractions like the glorious and alluring Netflix.
Some would consider this an e-learning pro when it comes to the current public health situation of COVID-19, but socially the isolation is a major downside. Unless you work hard to actively make plans with friends, attend club meetings, and go to sports practices, social interaction is hard to come by. Even if you manage to get to a previously populated study location, no one seems to be there to keep you company.
As you can see, e-learning has clear pros and cons that reinforce both sides of the argument. But what about in-person classes? Are they as amazing as students claim when they complain about learning via Zoom?
Benefits – In-Person Classes
This seems like an obvious point. However, spending time with others is truly one of the most appealing aspects of in-person learning. Going to class and seeing people outside of your close-knit group is essential to your mental health and well-being. Learning among your peers makes the college experience exponentially more rewarding than staying alone in your dorm.
Better quality education
From my observations on campus, a large number of students are very attached to it. For some classes, there isn’t much difference in the delivery or type of information provided, whether on Zoom or in a conference room. But for classes such as labs, discussion-based seminars, and other hands-on classes, in-person attendance is essential. Students simply won’t get the same quality of learning when they attend, say, a virtual lab.
Categorizing increased focus with more social interaction might sound silly. Surely being around more people would be more entertaining? It is simply not true. Being around other people who are studying and paying attention can have a facilitative and motivating effect, making you more likely to participate in these activities.
Cons – In-Person Class
COVID is a big one, obviously. Daily gatherings of hundreds of students who frequently remove their masks to eat or sip water are risky activities during these times. Wouldn’t it be safer for all of us to stay online? Are the benefits of in-person learning worth the risk? Well, CWRU made their decision to bring us back in person anyway, but it’s up to you whether they were justified.
Getting to class
Living in Cleveland makes us all bitterly aware of the term “lake effect snow.” Wind and slippery sidewalks make walking to class a handicap. To make matters worse, every member of the freshman class seems to be trying to get on the shuttle by the time you decide to take a chance. In the current situation, we need to strategically plan our choice of shuttle stop if we are to have a chance of getting to class without braving the harsh conditions.
After all this, what is the answer? What is better? In short, neither. The purpose of this article is to inspire students to think logically and rationally about their feelings toward the two types of learning. Keeping an open mind during these times is the most fruitful way to be, as conditions keep changing. Use this article to remind yourself that despite all the strong feelings you have towards online or in-person learning, neither is perfect – both are good and bad in their own way. Think rationally, and no matter the form of learning, you will succeed. Remember what this era has taught us. As Max McKeown said, “all failure is failure to adapt, all success is successful adaptation”.