Graphic by Ashley Mowreader
Professors, administrators and students said they have mixed feelings about whether virtual learning should continue to be used once in-person classes resume: some think it must be incorporated into future learning, while others plan to stop using it as soon as possible. Either way, at least some aspects of virtual education are likely here to stay, as a permanent hybrid option would increase accessibility.
“Is it ideal? Is it easy? No, but I do think the future is headed in this direction in a lot of ways in higher ed,” Communication Professor Michelle Truelson said. “I think starting to be more open to increasing access and amplifying that reach and connection through technology is kind of inevitable for the future.”
Professors: To Zoom or Not to Zoom?
While many professors want to resume face-to-face instruction as soon as it can be done safely, some, like Truelson, are considering maintaining a hybrid modality — in which there are both in-person and virtual students enrolled in a course — to better accommodate students after the pandemic is over.
Truelson said new virtual technology should be mixed with the connection and intimacy allowed by in-person learning.
“Instead of fighting [digital learning] and thinking it’s bad, we can embrace it,” Truelson said. “We need to make it part of the overall structure to broaden access and connection and reach.”
One obstacle to integrating hybrid options permanently is logistical issues that come with catering to both virtual and in-person students, such as testing and group projects. Although Truelson said she supports offering her courses in a hybrid format moving forward, she is unsure how to navigate these issues.
“The lack of ability to connect is difficult,” Truelson said. “If you’ve got three-quarters or more of your class in person, always remembering to adjust lectures and include those who are virtual – how would that meld and mix? I think that’s tricky.”
The problem of intermingling students also applies to discussion-based courses like the Great Books Colloquium. English Professor Tuan Hoang said he thinks current technology is insufficient for teaching Great Books in the hybrid modality — he would likely have to split up the class: half could meet one day a week in person, and the other half online.
Alternatively, virtual learning can complement in-person instruction rather than replace it, such as by allowing professors to invite guest speakers who may not otherwise be able to come. Biology Professor Donna Nofziger said she will use Zoom for this purpose post-pandemic.
Another way professors plan to use Zoom in the future is by offering more flexible, expanded office hours — which Nofziger, Hoang and Truelson said they plan to do.
A potential future application of online courses is using them to better maintain connections students make with study abroad faculty, which Nofziger said could help address the current lack of engagement once students return to Malibu.
“You spend a year abroad, you get to know these faculty really well and then you never can take a class with them again,” Nofziger said. “[Zoom] might be an opportunity [for them] to continue to teach students on campus in Malibu.”
An additional future use of Zoom is offering recordings of lectures if students cannot make it to class due to illness or other extenuating circumstances. Nofziger said she will continue providing recorded lectures once in-person instruction resumes using new videography equipment installed in classrooms by Pepperdine.
Potential pitfalls of providing recorded lectures include students routinely skipping live class. To combat this, Nofziger and Truelson said they both plan to incentivize class attendance rather than punish absences, such as by providing opportunities for additional points only to those present.
While Nofziger said she doesn’t anticipate privacy issues with providing recordings of her science lectures, classes where students connect course material to personal stories likely will cause such issues to arise and also may discourage open discourse.
Business Professor Brian Link said he shares the concern that students may not speak as openly if lectures are recorded — one of many challenges Link identifies with teaching virtually post-pandemic.
“I work very hard to make sure the Zoom experience is giving the best quality education possible,” Link said. “I want to bring the same enthusiasm and connectedness. But there are certain innate challenges, I find, to the Zoom experience that are not prohibitive of that but make it challenging. It’s not quite the same.”
Although Link said he plans to resume in-person teaching post-pandemic without incorporating Zoom or recorded lectures, he does think a hybrid modality will become more common in higher education — a thought echoed by many professors even outside of Pepperdine.
Zoom Increases Student Accessibility
Zoom has been beneficial for some students with disabilities and problematic for others, said Sandra Harrison, the executive director of the Office of Student Accessibility. For example, students with chronic illnesses can now do class from home when they may be too sick to get out of bed, but students with ADHD may struggle to schedule their own learning outside of the classroom environment.
“My entire time at Pepperdine I’ve been told, you have to go to class or you have to have these accommodations,” Mazen said. “But it’s never been, you can Zoom in or the lecture will be recorded. I think that it would definitely be very nice and very inclusive if we did have, post-pandemic, an option of recorded lectures or Zoom in.”
Mazen also said student organizations should continue to have Zoom as an option for people who can’t join in person, but that they should not transition fully to the platform because the virtual environment is not as effective at engaging students and growing community.
The difficulty in community building online is why Nofziger said the Regents Scholars Student Board, which provides programming to students in the Regents Scholars Program, will likely not use Zoom post-pandemic.
Student Government Association President Chase Johnson said SGA will limit its use of the platform when in-person meetings are possible. Virtual meetings will, however, provide SGA with the ability to conduct training for the new electors over the summer rather than during the school year, giving SGA a head start.
Students Divided Over Value of Hybrid Course Offerings
Mazen said offering the hybrid modality for the same tuition could only benefit Pepperdine and students by providing increased options for students without reducing University income.
Similarly, Johnson said maintaining a hybrid modality into the future would be beneficial.
“I don’t see a good reason why not to,” Johnson said. “I’d say while they’re investing in the infrastructure and technology, why not utilize it?”
Conversely, senior Jillian Smith said she is uncertain about whether online students should pay the same price for virtual learning. She thinks many of Pepperdine’s key attributes — study abroad programs, the Malibu location, and the Christian community — are not accessible over Zoom.
“If I were Pepperdine, I think that an online option for undergrad is not really a good move,” Smith said. “Because that’s not really what you’re paying for when you pay the premium of Pepperdine. No one’s gonna willingly pay that premium for Zoom University.”
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