Virtual learning requires nuanced alternatives for student engagement

CAMPUS AFFAIRS: Online learning has its challenges, but flexible syllabuses will alleviate stress from assignments

Illustration of Zoom meeting interface
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

Related Posts

In the middle of a global pandemic, universities worldwide have shifted to online learning platforms to salvage the educational experience of its students, including UC Berkeley. Unfortunately, transitioning to a virtual learning environment means losing out on key aspects of the in-class experience, such as traditional test-taking methods and in-person office hours. Although COVID-19 has forced virtual education upon faculty and students, this major health risk requires flexibility from faculty and students alike.

To be clear, the university and its instructors are doing their best to continue academic operations despite the fact that this is an unprecedented situation. It is impossible to know how these circumstances have impacted each student, but it’s safe to assume that some may not have access to the internet or a computer to complete assignments or attend class. With the quickly increasing responses to COVID-19, instructors should be more open to instituting alternative assignments or changing assignment criteria to allow for a more flexible approach. Virtual learning undoubtedly comes with its difficulties, but student engagement does not have to suffer significantly.

Online learning has its challenges even for students who have access to the internet and a computer. Implementing elaborate test-taking requirements and assigning a barrage of paper assignments do little to bolster classroom participation and only create more unwarranted stress for students. Additionally, campus officials have already suspended all class attendance policies; students in different time zones should not be reprimanded for nonattendance when classes take place at inconvenient hours. Whether solutions involve extending deadlines, changing grading options or providing more office hours to facilitate learning, productive learning solutions can be implemented in a variety of ways. The classroom experience has already been compromised by the nature of virtual learning, so students and instructors need to work together to find solutions to bolster active engagement and participation.

While the ordinary classroom experience is unattainable at this point, the whole campus community needs to be committed to making the most of this virtual education, including students. To best salvage this semester’s education, students must cooperate with instructors and professors, as well as be sympathetic to the loss of the classroom experience. As the future of academic schedules remains fluid, students need to be prepared to adapt to any new changes. Acknowledging that we have all lost out on the full academic experience is the first step toward finding feasible solutions.

The university has instituted the best policies available, but grievances with online learning will be inevitable and persistent. It is important to keep a flexible course schedule so that instructors can offer a range of assignments and all students can have the opportunity to gain an education. The purpose of education is to learn, plain and simple, so leniency toward assignments should be a top priority to salvage the rest of the semester.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2020 opinion editor, Simmy Khetpal.