Classes have been anything but normal. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the University System of Georgia to cancel classes for two weeks before moving them online for the rest of the spring semester. However, in some ways, this semester was a success story from an academic standpoint. Despite facing one of the worst threats in modern history, classes were able to continue.
Technology made this possible. This semester has shown how powerful of a tool technology is for learning in the modern times.
As someone who has grown up with computers and the internet, I sometimes take technology for granted, but online classes have given me a new perspective on them.
This is not to say that online classes are ideal. Most students, myself included, would probably prefer to be taking in-person classes. Some things simply cannot be done remotely. Working and studying with others virtually can also feel at times more awkward than in-person.
Online classes are also inherently unfair for some students. A study published in 2018 found that students of a lower socioeconomic status and students of color were more likely to experience difficulties in an online setting. It also suggested that differences in digital access may create disparities in learning.
However, although online classes are far from ideal, it’s pretty remarkable how well they have worked. Although professors had to suddenly move their classes online and cram six weeks of content into four weeks, students were still able to go through most of the material.
We had the resources for online classes before the pandemic, of course. But holding some online classes is not the same as having to move all classes online, especially when many students and teachers had little to no previous experience with online classes. That a school as large as the University of Georgia could do so relatively smoothly is no small feat, and it speaks to the benefits that technology offers modern-day education.
Online lectures over Zoom serve as a good example of how technology can improve education. In-person lectures certainly feel more natural, but lectures through Zoom have worked well too. In some ways, they’re better than in-person lectures because there’s less chance to be distracted by a neighbor. Giving professors the ability to share their screens with the class also eliminates problems with students in the back of the classroom struggling to read small text.
Zoom and similar services could also enhance learning in normal times. Students who are sick could attend classes virtually. If the professor is comfortable with these services, holding office hours over a video call could be more convenient for students and professors.
Ideally, classes will be held in-person in the fall if it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, however, technology has enabled us to learn even when we are away from campus. That’s something for which we should be grateful.