Online classes are not a viable alternative to face-to-face instruction

As Valley College gins up its online curriculum in order to meet student demand, the college’s standard of education is in jeopardy.

By Isaac Dektor, Managing Editor

There are two ways a college professor can run synchronous online courses meeting via zoom: lecture throughout the duration of the class only stopping for questions, or tolerate the inevitable challenges that arise in the virtual classroom.

Student demand is driving up Valley College’s online courses at the expense of the traditional community-college experience due to technological obstacles.

Online classes increased by over 40 percent over the last two years. While the transition to remote education was understandable to meet students' needs at the start of the pandemic, the trend continues - online classes dominate the curriculum as classrooms remain deserted. While this trend is understandable to meet student needs, it is a short term solution that will cause a long term problem — decline in the quality of education. This decline is caused by technological obstacles that eat away at valuable class time while decreasing accessibility for individuals who are not technologically savvy.

Not everyone is good with computers. Technological fluency is natural for those who grew up

with the ability to Google anything and get an answer. All a young person needs to find out the capital of Ukraine is a smartphone and Wi-Fi, but ask one to find the American People’s Encyclopedia using the dewey decimal system and they will likely be at a loss.

The internet’s complete integration into daily life has been a rapid process. On average, baby boomers and older Generation X individuals have a much harder time navigating their way through cyberspace, much like a younger person would probably get lost in a library’s bookshelves. Many students and professors find themselves at a disadvantage when behind a computer screen — what is so natural for people who grew up using computers and smartphones can be a complete headache for those who are learning the new medium on the go.

The technological barrier can even rise to the level of discrimination in some cases when inaccessible computer programs could violate the Americans With Disabilities Act. In fact, a group of blind students won a case against the district and an appeal in federal court last year claiming, among other things, that “computer applications were not accessible to them because they did not function properly with screen-reading software,” according to Disability Rights California.

There are over 800 online courses listed in Valley’s spring 2022 calendar. There is an inevitable delay when a professor asks for student participation in an online class that would not happen in person. Most students mute their microphones as a professor is talking, and when called on, take a few extra moments to move their cursor to the unmute button. This tiny delay, when multiplied across Valley’s entire internet curriculum, is astronomical.

In addition to the awkward live broadcast delay, many professors do not require students to turn on their cameras. Without knowing if a student is present, it is common for a professor to waste time by calling on someone that is either absent or preoccupied, which is typical due to the passive nature of remote learning.

This is no one’s fault. Online is just not an adequate substitute for the physical classroom if it means attending classes from home.

Susan Singer, who resigned last year after teaching at Valley for 35 years, told the Star that she would still be teaching if the pandemic had not happened.

“I loved teaching, interacting with the students and making a difference in their lives,” said Singer. “Converting to online instruction changed all of that for me. It became very impersonal, and I no longer enjoyed teaching,”

While in some circumstances an online class may suffice in lieu of face-to-face, many courses are elevated through student participation, something that is hobbled by the challenges of teaching to Zoom tiles. Additionally, the inaccessibility of technology for many students leads to a loss of valuable class time and, in some cases, discrimination.