Remote learning is different, but that’s not a bad thing

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Media: Cho Yin Rachel Lo

Students cross the intersection of Boylston St. and Tremont St.

As Emerson moves forward with its reopening plans for the fall semester, many students have raised concerns about the value of online classes. Is it comparable to the in-person experience, they ask, when teachers only appear through a screen, sometimes hundreds of miles away? And some of Emerson’s more immersive classes—think theater, film, and dance—are reliant on the type of live interaction and intimacy the pandemic prohibits. 

Under Emerson’s hybrid learning models, students will be completing a portion of their classes online. Normal twice-a-week classes will be live one day and remote the other. Some students have also opted for a fully remote semester, citing safety concerns while the pandemic rages on across the country, in addition to financial issues and familial obligations. 

After taking almost half a semester of online courses early this year, it’s easy to focus on the less-than-ideal aspects of remote learning—the plethora of distractions and the lack of actual face-to-face interaction, for example. That said, it’s also impossible to forget the sometimes-debilitating financial burden of an altered semester, which costs the same as a regular Emerson semester. (In case you’ve forgotten, that clocks in at about $24,416 per semester.)

While an abnormal semester should be reflected in the tuition amount, especially in an economy severely impacted by the pandemic, administrators say the recent tuition increase was necessary to reduce the multimillion dollar losses the college expects to endure this year.  And it’s important to remember that the faculty and staff are not to blame for this increase. 

In the end, online classes are not going to replace the most fruitful aspects of the in-person learning experience. The remote learning format does not align with the students’ expectations for college and does not validate the amount of tuition the school is collecting. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be worthwhile. It’s about making the best of the tough situation while creating a safe working environment for students, faculty, and staff.

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One big advantage of remote learning is its flexibility. Students can tune in to Zoom meetings or complete Canvas assignments in whatever setting they feel most comfortable in, even if it’s in bed with their pajamas still on. And with asynchronous work, those who feel overwhelmed or hurried by the usual classroom environment can work at their own pace at a time that’s most convenient for them. For students with jobs, this may allow them to work more, which is crucial during a time of economic turmoil.

Another consideration is that online learning could actually be good for students’ health. They can sleep a bit longer because they don’t have to worry about getting dressed, waiting in elevators, and traveling to class. Despite sleep being proven as key to academic success, a 2017 study found that up to 60 percent of college students suffer from poor sleep quality, and almost 8 percent suffer from insomnia. 

While the challenge of remote learning is mostly seen through the lens of students, professors share the burdens of switching to a hybrid format. Although our classes will be delivered through an unfamiliar medium, multiple professors told The Beacon they are spending their time adapting and finding ways to deliver the same education as they would in person. 

Senior writer-in-residence Gian Lombardo, who has taught both in-person and online within the graduate school, said professors are suited to offering their curricula in more than one format. 

“I hope that students are coming [to Emerson] because of the faculty and what we can give them, coming here to tap on some specialized knowledge that we can give you,” he said in a phone interview with The Beacon. “And we can do that in many different ways.” 

Students should expect the quality of our education this semester to depend on how much effort we put in to receive it. When we’re in person, we automatically maintain a level of activeness, through participating and asking questions, that allows us to learn. Transitioning to online means we’ll be obligated to consciously engage with our classes this way and work harder to learn the same thing we would have in person. It’s not ideal, but it’s how we can still receive the same education that we normally would.

“That’s key for either in the classroom or online,” Lombardo said. “It’s convincing students that it’s not just that you get delivered education—it’s not a passive experience. The more you’re active in it, the more you’re there, the more you get out of it.”

Online learning works because the student has the option to create their own schedule. But that also means it can be easy to go off-track and fall into a slump of sleeping during the day, missing deadlines, and overlooking assignments in the absence of the concrete structure college usually provides. Sticking to a daily routine helps motivate students to stay on top of their assignments, even if they choose to only complete a small portion of work each day.

Yes, remote learning forces us to spend more time alone in our rooms and less time seeing and studying with friends. But hey, it’s a pandemic. The least we can do is think positive. And think about all the things we won’t have to put up with: commutes to campus, snow days, and lengthy elevator wait times. 

When it comes down to it, cooperating now and making the best out of learning in this new capacity brings us closer to returning to the campus we love—as normal—in the spring.

The Berkeley Beacon Editorial Board is the voice of the student newspaper that looks to serve the Emerson College community with thoughtful insight into ongoings and occurrences affecting their everyday lives. The board’s positions are determined by its members. The board consists of the editor-in-chief, managing editors, and opinion editors. The opinions expressed by the Editorial Board do not impact the paper’s coverage. You can respond to a position brought forward by The Beacon Editorial Board in the form of a Letter to The Editor by email: [email protected].