Online Learning and COVID-19: How Do Colleges Adjust?
For high school juniors and seniors, preparing for college can be stressful. As schools switch from in-person to online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, this stress may be compounded by the fact that colleges are physically closed. Your carefully constructed college timeline might seem in jeopardy. However, there are ways to adapt to these changes. We’re all in this together, and we all just want to retain as much normalcy in our lives as possible. No one wants schools to close, especially the schools themselves.
Colleges are navigating many of the same issues as primary and secondary schools right now. They are grappling with ways to keep serving students in a virtual way. This extends to prospective students as well. Fortunately, there are workarounds. Colleges are trying out lots of solutions. Let’s look at some of the steps colleges are taking to keep the wheels of academia turning.
Worried about maintaining your college timeline? Visit our post about how to stay on track.
Switching to Fully Online Learning
Most colleges have closed campus to all in-person instruction, and finish the semester entirely online. To pull this off with minimal interruption to the semester required some scrambling on the part of departments and instructors. However, shifting all classes to online instruction is not a huge leap.
The majority of colleges were already set up for online instruction and have been incorporating it for years. LMS platforms, such as Blackboard or Canvas, are widely in use. Most college students and many high school students are already familiar with them; instructors were already using these platforms for posting syllabi, assignments, and announcements. Now, instructors are posting pre-recorded lectures, discussion boards, and hosting live-stream courses.
On top of that, most colleges offer hybrid and fully-online courses, as well as online degree programs. Some, like Penn State, have entire virtual campuses specifically for online students. Additionally, online library services are a standard resource at this point. Altogether, this means that shifting to fully online instruction for all courses, for the most part, should barely disrupt regular course work.
Closing Down for the Semester
Unfortunately, some colleges are opting to simply shut down for the rest of the semester. Whether due to lack of necessary virtual infrastructure for online learning, or a range of administrative choices, it’s an unfortunate turn of events. On the upside, some of the colleges taking this route, like Berea College, are providing students with refunds. Regardless, this kind of unexpected disruption to your college career must be disappointing.
Sending Students Off-Campus
In addition to canceling in-person instruction and services, colleges are closing dorms and sending students off-campus. This makes sense in light of social distancing. Unfortunately, it also exacerbates some underlying issues and highlights inequities.
One assumption to this choice is that students will “go back home.” However, things aren’t that simple for a significant portion of the student population. Many students experience housing and food insecurity. Living on campus keeps a roof over their heads, and (some) food on their plates. These students may experience major adversities during breaks between semesters when the dorms are closed. Campuses closing earlier than normal means their lives become that much harder and uncertain.
Additionally, for many LGBTQ+ students, returning home may not be an option. Some have accepting families, but this is unfortunately not the case for everyone. Many students who are “out” have been disowned by their families and have nowhere to return. Many others are not out to their families out of fear of being disowned, or worse.
Finally, online learning works great if you have access to all the infrastructure required to get online. However, not all students have access to technology and internet connectivity; these students depend on their college library and its resources to complete their coursework. Shutting down campus can leave them scrambling for solutions, or shut out of education.
Switching to Pass/Fail Grading
Colleges recognize that the current situation and its changes are making students anxious. This anxiety can negatively affect academic performance. In response, some colleges (or specific courses) are switching to a pass/fail grading system for the time being. If you’re not familiar with it, pass/fail grading is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of getting a letter grade, you simply either pass or fail a course.
The idea behind this switch is to reduce the stress on students. The pass/fail approach lowers the stakes, as it doesn’t affect GPA like letter grades. It allows students to focus on their studies without stressing over getting a specific letter grade. Amid all this change, measures like this can prevent students from feeling overwhelmed.
Canceling In-Person College Visits
College visits are a popular tradition among students shopping for colleges. However, just as colleges are closed to in-person instruction, they’re also closed for tours. We understand that this can be disappointing and that you might have had your hopes up to visit your top picks.
However, there’s a virtual workaround for this too. Lots of colleges already offer virtual tours, and more are coming online all of the time. Though a virtual visit is not exactly the same as visiting a campus in person, it’s a very useful resource. Virtual tours allow you to see what it’s like to be on campus without having to leave home.
This is an affordable, accessible alternative to the traditional college campus. After all, not every student is able to attend campus tours, for a variety of reasons. Even if you’re not living under orders for social distancing, virtual tours are a great resource. They allow you to check out colleges and narrow down your list with minimal effort and at no cost.
Embrace the Change
Things are changing every day, but try not to think of this as a setback. In many ways, it is a great opportunity. The traditional college model has not been accessible for students with disabilities, nontraditional students, and students who can’t typically afford tuition or relocate to attend. Now, colleges have to step up to incorporate new technology to make education more accessible to all students. That technology is not only important in keeping us safe during a pandemic, it’s also important in the long run.
Hopefully, positive change will come out of this situation, and higher education will be permanently more accessible for all.
Now is a great time to embrace online learning. If you need academic support, check out our online tutoring services.