Online learning. Brings shivers down my spine.
I have been working alongside EWH as they launched their virtual design program this week. The course focuses on low-resource design and engineering for healthcare in an international setting, with participants working together in international teams. This program was developed for students that would have otherwise participated in the 2020 Summer Institutes, sans pandemic. While this workshop definitely does not replace EWH’s Summer Institute, the goal is to try and foster the same spirit of creativity and exchange.
This seems to be a recurring theme throughout education today, as educators are struggling to recreate the in-person learning experience online. The article I have chosen today from The Harvard Gazette sums up the transition to online learning and integrating virtual classrooms with traditional ones. Teaching and learning in a completely new environment with time zone differences and lack of in-person interactions will undoubtedly create challenges that would otherwise not exist. The article stresses the importance of “leaning forward” in order to take full advantage of the experience, but this emphasis on “sparking curiosity, challenging assumptions, and inspiring learning” did not sit well with me. The Vice Provost being interviewed remains too optimistic about replicating human interactions with online group events, making communication too inorganic and forced. The most important interactions happen within the classroom, and it’s difficult to recreate the chatter amongst classmates that don’t necessarily need to be heard by the entire class.
My critique of the article is that it lacks the perspectives of the students impacted by the change to virtual learning. While I understand it is the administration’s job to put the safety of students first, they are not obligated to act like they have found a solution to students’ troubles. It is fine to acknowledge that there’s really no method to implement that could recreate the true, traditional college environment, and that is okay. The forced interactions honestly make the entire experience more awkward than it already is.
The people are truly what makes up the college experience. There is little that can be done to reproduce this aspect of college online, and students understand that. So please stop forcing stunted interactions, administration. We are a generation of resilience and we can and will get through this.