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Cons & Pros of Virtual Education

(Sharon Mccutcheon on Unsplash)

By Gisela Cazar

Transitioning to distance learning due to COVID-19 had its cons and pros for City University of New York students. Some students found it more difficult to learn remotely or had technical difficulties. Others reported being more focused and productive.

At CUNY, classes took a brief time off to allow faculty to shift online and to make sure all students had access to the resources they needed. Not all students had reliable high-speed Wi-Fi, which meant that some had their education disrupted starting March 12, when classes shifted online.

“I have a tablet and a desktop, but both of my devices are SUPER slow,” says Jasmin Chango, 26, a John Jay student. “I literally would have to join the class discussion like 30 to 40 minutes in advance because the pages would take forever to load.”

Chango doesn’t have Wi-Fi at home. She was using a mobile hot spot in order to complete assignments and attend video conference classes. One of her neighbors has internet Wi-Fi and shares access with her. CUNY has offered Wi-Fi services, says Chango, and she tried to apply but she was on hold for almost four hours and got no help. “Bless my neighbor for being so generous with me during this difficult time,” she says.

Many people are either working or learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing internet connections to be used much more than before. “Even the latest Wi-Fi routers with fast service speeds can get bogged down by a family of users trying to do things simultaneously like stream video, play graphics-intensive games, use virtual private networks (VPNs) for work, and video conference,” advises the Federal Communications Commission, which suggests creating a schedule for sharing access.

(Olena Sergienko on Unsplash)

Raisa Castillo is a mathematics professor at Lehman College. “It’s tough out here,” she says. “Math, in general, contains a lot of note taking. I have to write on an easel and I stress if all my students can see my handwritten notes through their screens. This is why I never teach this course online, ever.”

Chango is taking statistics this semester and confirms that it is much more difficult to learn math online for the reason Castillo points out. “There are just some subjects you cannot teach online and it makes it 1,000 times harder to learn online,” said Chango.

Marissa Torres, a LaGuardia Community college student, says many of her courses require a lot of reading books and writing essays. “It really hasn’t changed much, we would read the books on our own come in to class for a discussion and work on our papers at home,” says Torres. “The only difference is just having the discussion online, which I prefer. I’m actually saving money not having to buy a monthly Metrocard just to attend class discussions. I think after this whole pandemic is over, I’ll be taking online classes.”

Karla Mera, 24, also attends LaGuardia Community and says she is enjoying distance learning. She says her mastery of the subject matter is actually greater. “I think I’m doing better in some subjects because I’m learning at my own pace with the guidance of my professors,” says Mera. “Thankfully, I haven’t had technical difficulties but I did notice that some of my professors, especially the older ones, were visual teachers. They depended on the white board to draw or write out key points for us. Now, almost a month in with breaks, I think they have the hang of it now.”

(Allie on Unsplash)

Some faculty members are not tech savvy or are not familiar with the use of computers or other electronic devices. Even tech-savvy professors needed time to adapt to certain programs and to see which fit best with their classes. Many professors experimented with different apps and programs such as Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate, Google Meet, to see what worked best with their teaching styles. Security flaws, which surfaced with Zoom, was another challenge to virtual teaching.

Castillo had been told to use Zoom but, as soon as she installed it, she was lost. “I received training on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and I won’t lie, I had trouble with that too but I found it much simpler,” says Castillo. “It probably took me three classes to get the hang of it but hey, I think we’re doing great adapting in so little time.”

Health challenges, uneven access to resources and financial stressors during the pandemic likely have impacted some students and their grades. CUNY acknowledged this reality and implemented a flexible grading policy for the spring semester. All students have the option to change A to F letter grades to credit or no credit grading.

Marissa Torres said she wasn’t sure how she will be graded but believes her performance in class has improved. “In my in-person classes, I’m super timid, I barely participate,” said Torres. “But now, with distance learning, I’m interacting much more with students and even my professor. I guess I was intimidated to raise my hand and get picked on and get the wrong answer but it’s different when you’re behind a screen. It’s less intimidating and stops me from doubting myself and capability.”

CUNY has stated that summer classes of 2020 will be all online, meaning distance learning will be extended beyond the spring semester.

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