Although online classes can be frustrating, they offer some unique pros, such as allowing students to develop time management strategies and giving professors the chance to innovate how they deliver course material.
The first one is pretty obvious: Online classes do not carry the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Many schools are looking to online learning as a contingency plan if they are overwhelmed with cases on campus. With this uncertainty, some students might prefer to start out with an online class than have it changed on you sometime in the middle of the semester if the university bumps up to its highest alert level.
As it is, in-person classes have less-than-ideal measures in place that students taking online classes get to avoid. For example, in online classes you don’t have to try and understand course material through a mask, which can make it hard to understand normal speech, much less complex course material.
One of the biggest perks of online classes is that there are more resources available for review online. Especially in asynchronous classes, students can generally refer back to resources as they were presented up until exam time. This means students can use strategies, such as writing specific timestamps down to review later or rewinding if they missed an important note. Taking advantage of resource accessibility can help mitigate the impact of some difficulties inherent in online learning.
One of these difficulties, the self-paced nature of some of these courses, is an opportunity for students to develop their time management skills. Some time management strategies, such as working ahead on big projects and creating a specific space reserved for work, will be invaluable for future remote and in-person work students will encounter. Though time management is a difficult skill to learn, it can be very rewarding. Asynchronous classes are a great way to practice these skills in a sink or swim way.
Another opportunity that comes with online classes is that it makes better use of the learning management system we are already paying for. While Blackboard doesn’t publicly state its prices, business software review site BetterBuys estimates a per student cost of between $17 and $30 per year.
For USC, using a conservative estimate of 30,000 students, $17 per student adds up to $510,000 per year. Regardless of what you think of those numbers, taking classes online is letting us use more of that functionality and pushing professors to learn how to use the system more effectively.
With the shift to online classes, professors are looking at their material and trying to find ways to optimize it for online learning. For some professors, this means looking for new platforms rather than just their usual PowerPoint presentations. With these new circumstances, professors were given the opportunity to look at their old material in a new way and see if they can make the content more engaging for an online platform.
Harvard professor Chris Dede wrote in a Jobs for the Future report in 2014 that using digital teaching platforms allows teachers to utilize “[c]ase-based learning” and “varied representations of concepts.” With online learning, professors can connect students to outside resources that connect theoretical topics to real world situations and use different ways to illustrate the same topic.
Though many of us would prefer in-person classes over online, there are many advantages that switching some classes to online present. Many of us are new to online learning, so let’s take this opportunity to grow as learners and as a university community.