Jun 09 2020

The Remote Learning Diaries: Using Students to Improve Remote Learning Experiences

A senior at Oregon State University ponders the future of online learning.

By this time, the whole world is aware of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected nearly every aspect of our daily lives. So much has been lost in this time of great uncertainty, but have we gained anything? 

I was a college senior at Oregon State University when life completely flipped upside down. Companies issued hiring freezes, bars and restaurants were closed, spring sports and philanthropy events were cancelled, but there was one thing that remained: my classes.

3 Types of Classes in the Pandemic

At any college, students have the opportunity to take classes two ways: online or in-person. Hybrid classes, a combination of the two formats, are also available and very well liked among students. This pandemic has created three types of classes, two of which are new to students. First, what was once intended to be an in-person experience is now a remote class. And those hybrid classes that were originally meant to include some face time with the professor and other students are now remote hybrids. Online classes seem to remain unchanged. 

University’s Surprising Compensation for Student Employees

Along with representing CDW·G as the on-campus intern for OSU, I was also an employee of the College of Business. I was the teaching assistant for a management professor and have worked both jobs since July 2019. Upon the outbreak of the pandemic and the transition to remote teaching and learning, the hours I would have normally worked in both of my roles were substantially reduced, which was a harsh reality for a college student. However, OSU offered student employees COVID-19 leave based on how long they had been employed and how many hours they normally worked. This compensation was unexpected and could be externally funded, but it sure helped to combat some of the financial stresses of a college student in the middle of a pandemic. 

MORE ON EDTECH: Here are the best Zoom remote learning tech tips.

The professor I work for relies very heavily on in-person class time to deliver lectures while also performing activities on paper. The transition from on-campus to remote teaching has been difficult for him as it requires, essentially, a full restructuring of his courses. Students using Mac computers have an especially hard time succeeding in his class because the PC computers available in the College of Business were no longer accessible, except through remote desktop technology. This, along with every other technology it seemed, had proved to be very unreliable and difficult to connect to due to the sheer volume of students trying to access it. The world was not prepared for this amount of internet connection in the “work from home” way of life. 

For future terms, I think students and faculty need to work together to address issues specific to each university. Ultimately, we want to see how campuses can best prepare for the vast number of remote students, with a special focus on synchronous meeting requirements. Trying to perfectly mirror the in-person classroom setting in a remote format ultimately overwhelms servers and takes away from the flexibility of online work.

How Pass/Fail Options Can Be Improved

The university has communicated all remote learning updates to students via their school email account. Every new message I received that was addressed to all-student list made me hopeful that there was positive news to share, but also anxious when there wasn’t any. At the beginning of this remote term, I received an email telling students that we now have the ability to take any of our credits as pass/fail, meaning that they won’t count toward our GPA. 

Normally, you can only take classes in this format if they are not a requirement for your major or minor. While this email made me feel disheartened that the standards had to be lowered during the rapid shift to remote learning, I hope the university will raise the standards for online learning next semester in order to make the remote college experience as good as in-person classes. 

In terms of furthering my education, I don’t have much left of my college experience. However, I plan to get the most out of these classes I am currently enrolled in, even if they are online, because I want to remain motivated in my own higher education. An opportunity that OSU has, assuming the remote structure will continue in the future, is to use the upcoming graduates to help brainstorm how to make the remote college experience as good as a “normal” one. There are thousands of graduates about to enter the real world without opportunities or jobs amidst this pandemic, and I am sure they would like nothing more than to be a part of the solution.

Charday Penn/Getty Images