With spring semester registration opening this week, many students are, for the first time, presented with the opportunity to register for a full load of online classes entirely by choice.
As classes have adapted to supposedly provide equal instruction and opportunity for both online and in-person sections of the same class, it begs the question of why all students are not just living at home or off-campus to avoid the high costs of room and board.
Given the current financial situation of the University of Wisconsin System, it seems that if every student moved off campus, the university would undoubtedly just fall further into the hole.
However, there must be more than just some sense of moral obligation that makes students want to stay on campus.
I believe that two nonacademic things saving universities during the pandemic are friends and the idea of moving back with your family for the next ten months.
With on-campus activities and off-campus parties very limited or obsolete, the opportunities to make new friends have drastically diminished. This is a big blow to students, as friendships are one of the most important factors in making the decision to continue attempting to take in-person classes that require living on campus.
Even without friends, another driving factor for students to continue to pay the high costs of room and board for many is the idea that the alternative means they have to move back in with their families and give up all the newfound freedoms of independent life.
Your mom nagging on you to get out of bed, your little sister stealing all of your clothes and returning to a substance-free lifestyle may seem like an awful alternative, but is it really worth spending over $4,000 to avoid that for three months?
A more likely alternative that could be pressuring students to pursue in-person classes is the fact that the delivery styles may not yet be as equal as we want to believe. In two of my classes, I have been told that the students who opt for online-only instruction receive more work as an attempt to make up for the lack of participation and feedback they receive in class, even if they are watching the exact same lectures.
In other classes, I have had professors tell me that there is just no efficient way to give us feedback that they are aware of, so they simply opt not to. In my mind, feedback is one of the most important tools in learning. Seeing mistakes allows me to understand what I can work on and what I may need more help with.
Another way online learning isn’t up to par with in-person is when participation is supplemented with discussion posts.
It is a fundamental trait of college students to be procrastinators. Many professors have opted for discussion posts; which are open for a week at a time, but the majority of the class does not make posts until 10:00 on Sunday night, leaving two hours for actual meaningful discussion. Even if one student wants to get ahead, there may not be any actual opportunity when the rest of the class procrastinates.
There seem to be some gaps that still need to be filled before we can really say that online learning provides equal educational opportunities to in-person instruction, but there is no doubt that this semester’s opportunities were leaps and bounds ahead of last.
This improvement is exemplified by professors engaging in much-overdue Canvas training and a majority of the initial technical difficulties have been addressed.
Factors such as the disparity between online courses and in-person format, friendships and the opportunity for an independent lifestyle contribute to students’ choices to make efforts to live in the dorms.
There is sure to be more progress in the coming semester as we learn more about what online formats work and don’t, but I would not yet be eager to jump into a semester of fully online learning by choice.