Online classes are missing the point

Halfway through the semester and I haven’t learned anything

Graphic Joey Bruce

Someone recently asked me how I felt being halfway through the semester. I had to take a moment to process what they were talking about because there’s absolutely no way we’re midway through fall 2020. I’ve learned nothing.

Each semester has its moments of not knowing what day of the week, or even what month it is. But this year it feels different, and frankly, disappointing. 

It might have something to do with us never having that starting-the-race sensation of finding our classrooms or standing in line at the bookstore. I regret ever complaining about having to wait in those hectic lineups. I don’t even have the textbook for one of my classes because it still isn’t available, and our first exam is this week.

At the end of the day, when I have an exam—textbook or not—I’m going to study. But we aren’t cashing out thousands of dollars to learn from free websites. Our own personal methods of studying and furthering what we learn in class have always been a necessary part of progress. But it cannot be the entirety of how we’re learning. That’s simply not what higher education is and I sure didn’t take out a loan for this.

Everyone keeps saying we’re working with what we’ve got. But I don’t believe it. I don’t think the university has done more than sort out logistics. The learning experience that takes place in a lecture hall or a laboratory is more than professors giving students information. It’s visceral, interpersonal, connective, and straight up not happening through a screen.

My heart goes out to all of the first-year students who haven’t yet had the thrill of glaring at the person sitting behind you eating the world’s loudest snack. Even more so, because when that snack gets put away and you can focus on what the prof is saying, something magical happens. You learn something.

Read more: Starting a new chapter virtually

The prof is up there talking and you’re right there listening, and something clicks. And someone else in the room also learns something, and there’s an air of growth that you hardly recognize because you’re just there doing the thing.

For one little moment, your deep conscience feels justified about the cost of tuition. A feeling you can kiss goodbye.

In order to facilitate this new style of education, many of us have had to make extremely expensive decisions. On top of paying full tuition to watch profs figure out how Zoom works, we’ve also bought flights home, faster wifi, and new laptops.

It’s been a messy seven weeks, but I’m holding onto hope that somewhere between the delayed video lectures and blank screens of peers we can all learn something in the remainder of the semester. Thank God my therapist knows how to use Zoom.