Editorial: The trials and tribulations of remote learning

Exam cheating illustration Sam Ford/THE REVIEW
“Almost every course must be conducted in an online format, which is why we encourage professors to have conversations with their students about what works.”

Before March of 2020, online learning was an option. For the most part, students could decide whether in-person or online instruction worked best for them, and professors could decide whether to teach online or in-person courses. Under this pre-pandemic model, both students and professors were able to choose a medium that complimented their strengths.

For a semester under the shadow of coronavirus, individualized decisions regarding methods of instruction are no longer possible. We would like to commend instructors for all of the hard work they have put into teaching online, while also offering a student perspective on the challenges of online learning, how the online classroom can be further improved and how it can be used to its full potential. Almost every course must be conducted in an online format, which is why we encourage professors to have conversations with their students about what works.

A completely online approach may present challenges to the students who need a more individualized approach yet are confronted with the impersonality of asynchronous classes, to the students living across the globe who have to wake up in the dead of night to attend class, to the students who struggle to look at a screen all day and to the students who do not have a reliable internet connection or a good environment in which to work.

It may also challenge professors who have not yet had to confront these new interfaces or to the ones who rely on hands-on and experiential methods. Test-taking has been especially impacted by the online learning format. How can professors administer fair exams when each of their students is in a different physical location with different access to outside information?

In many classes, professors can no longer ensure that exams are taken without the aid of outside resources. Some have modified and adapted their exams to take this difficulty into account while others have opted to use online proctoring services such as ProctorU.

The Review believes that ProctorU is an extreme option when it comes to test-taking because the program invades students’ privacy, both by monitoring the students’ surroundings and by taking control of their computers. At the same time, we see the difficulties of administering valid exams through an online platform. Alternative solutions, such as TAs proctoring and the use of UD IDs to prove one’s identity might be less invasive and uncomfortable.

However, we do understand that it ultimately falls on the professor to make the decision that is right for the class. In select cases, ProctorU is the best option.

Unfortunately, learning is not one-size fits all. Even in a traditional classroom setting, there will always be someone to criticize professors’ teaching methods and policies. Face-to-face instruction will often allow for greater feedback, however, as the professor can see students’ expressions and interact with them individually. The implications of online instruction is that communication is not as explicit and must be more direct and intentional.

For any online class to work, there needs to be purposeful dialogue between students and professors so that both can see what methods are working and which aren’t.

The Review commends professors who have been working to ensure their teaching techniques work for as many students as possible:

In the anthropology department, professor Jenn Trivedi organizes her three-hour seminar in a way that maintains student engagement despite the long duration of the class. Trivedi has her students spend the first hour of class exploring content through readings and videos. Then, the students spend the rest of class discussing and debating the material. Trivedi recognizes that most of her students do not learn best from sitting on a Zoom call for three hours, and has been able to organize her class in a way that avoids that.

Further, sociology professor Asia Friedman only has class once per week to encourage her students to spend time on readings and theory. Microbiology professor Ramona Nenuebel recognized that time in the lab is essential for any biology student’s education and ensured that her students were supplied with lab materials for free so that labs could be performed at home. Despite class being held online, Nenuebel ensures that her students are still able to have a hands-on experience.

The Review also wants to bring attention to energy and environmental policy professor Casey Taylor, who allowed students to provide their input on class rules and procedures.

These classes have been generally well-received and students largely consider them to be examples of effective online classes. What makes these classes success stories, however, is communication.

Online learning is a new challenge that students and professors alike must confront. Being that it is such unfamiliar territory, we as students cannot expect immediate perfection. It takes time and it requires student feedback. In the meantime patience and flexibility are essential; as they say, communication is key.

The Review’s weekly editorials are written to reflect the majority opinion of The Review’s staff. This week’s editorial was written by Kelsey Wagner, associate news editor. She may be reached at kdwagner@udel.edu.

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