Speaking of my students, I will meet with them in person only 25% of the time this semester, or with no more than five or six on any given day. The university has decided that limiting the number of students in a classroom is one way to promote their safety as well as that of their professors. This means that the rest of the time we will meet online, teaching and learning remotely. It is not a perfect solution by any means.
A report published last year documented the many concerns associated with online learning that have plagued the industry for years. Chief among these are the “increasing gaps in educational success across socioeconomic groups” and the fact that “students with weak academic preparation . . . consistently underperform in fully-online environments.”
Proponents of online learning are typically quick to point out that those shortcomings also apply to face-to-face instruction. Indeed, socioeconomics and weak academic preparation have long been the handmaidens of academic underperformance whether students are receiving instruction online or in a traditional classroom setting. Affluence, or the lack thereof, can and often does affect every facet of learning. But that debate will have to wait for the time being.
Last week I posted a short video at my online class page, reminding students that in order to succeed this semester they must have a desktop, laptop or tablet with reliable Internet access. Some of them had already visited the page, which is a good sign. It suggests they are eager to get started and perhaps also aware that staying informed is always a good idea.
I may post another video before the semester begins about COVID-19, and in that I’ll emphasize the importance of physical distancing, mask wearing in public places, and frequent hand washing. We don’t know everything there is to know about the virus, so taking those precautions shouldn’t be too much to ask while we continue to learn more.
It is also the case that many young people view COVID-19 as no more threatening to their health than the annual flu bug. News reports have shown them frolicking on beaches, partying in crowded bars, and in general ignoring the advice of health experts. They’ve been slow to recognize the role they can play in the transmission of this virus that has now killed almost 170,000 people in the United States.
I may also put in a good word for their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and people like me. Unlike many my age, my health is excellent and based on family history there’s a good chance I could live another 25 years. But I need to stay healthy if that’s ever going to happen. I’m 66, which means there is a greater risk that contracting the Covid-19 virus could make me extremely ill, or worse, end my life.