Why remote learning has to stay

Graphic by Camille Williams

Every university, regardless of whether they opened their campuses to students or not, adopted some form of remote learning in 2020. Though universities experienced difficulties going completely online, like professors and students needing to readapt or STEM courses having students conduct labs online, after over a year of remote school, universities arguably have the resources to continue offering virtual classes. 

Though many students long for the return to in-person classes, I have zero desire to sit in a classroom in the future. While there are downsides to remote learning, from slow internet to confusing Canvas pages and more, after 13 months of taking classes online, I prefer it and if possible, would continue it in the future. The thought of having to wake up to walk to a lecture scares me, and anyone with natural hair knows that having to do your hair in the morning may add 20 minutes to your routine. I knew I couldn’t possibly be the only student that enjoys remote learning, so I interviewed like-minded Northwestern students on why in-person class is no match for Zoom University.

Benefit #1: Classes are recorded, so you can revisit lectures on your own time

Most professors record lectures and class meetings through the convenience of Zoom. These recordings are accessible through Canvas, and some students find being able to review lectures helpful. Arieyanna Davis, a first-year student in Weinberg majoring in psychology and African-American studies, identifies with these students. “I can actually see how my professor explained this topic rather than going to another resource,” she said.

When you’re in-person, especially for STEM classes, most assignments are done during class. If a student has a lab assignment, they go to the lab to complete it.  However, this cannot be done remotely. As such, professors and students heavily use online resources. 

In her chemistry class, Davis used “ChemCollective,” which, according to the website, is a “collection of virtual labs, scenario-based learning activities, tutorials and concept tests.” Davis said she likes this resource because “you can try out different things you might not be able to do in [in-person] labs [with a] time constraint”

Davis also said she would want the option to take online classes in the future. “I feel like I’m able to tailor my learning to me a lot better,” she said. “Remote learning, you’re able to personalize everything and make sure you’re learning in a way that benefits you.”

Benefit #2: It’s more accessible to people with disabilities 

Elizabeth Curtis, a fourth-year student in SESP majoring in social policy, said they prefer remote learning over in-person as well. As a disabled person, Curtis said being able to watch recorded lectures with closed captioning is invaluable. .

Before the pandemic, running around campus every day proved difficult for Curtis. Back-to-back in-person classes made it challenging to find time to eat, and if they didn’t pack food early in the morning, they would have to buy food at Norris, which Curtis said was expensive.

“As someone who lives off-campus, one of the hardest things was managing my energy levels,” Curtis said. She recalls “being really tired and trying to figure out how I was going to eat during the day, because once I left my apartment I wasn’t coming back until the day ended.” 

In the future, Curtis said they would like to take online classes, because they value being able to stay home and have immediate access to anything they need. “When I have really bad chronic pain days…just having the ability to get out of my class and go to my kitchen and make something to eat is much easier and less stressful in terms of my health and budgeting.”

Benefit #3: Remote learning could reduce the cost of higher education, making it more financially accessible

As remote learning technologies continue to improve, universities could leverage them to allow individuals to take classes, receive certificates, majors or minors regardless if they are on campus. This would be groundbreaking, because it would increase access to higher education, meaning families would not necessarily have to force their children to make harsh, financially-based college decisions. If a college does not give a prospective student enough financial support, they can still earn a degree at that university.

Harvard University currently offers online courses for those who are interested. While not every course is free, there are around 120 free courses available, ranging from the Fundamentals of Neuroscience to U.S. public policy. 

With professors at universities using various online methods to conduct classes for over a year, ideally it would be relatively easy for many (or even all) universities to adopt online courses similar to those offered at Harvard to try to help amend an already widening education gap according to research by Brookings.edu. 

There are a number of benefits to remote learning—all of which cannot be covered in an article. Nevertheless, instead of abruptly going back to in-person classes after the pandemic, it is imperative that universities address the following: “What about students who have enjoyed remote learning?” and “How can we use remote learning to bring more bright minds ‘into’ our university?”


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