We should keep some aspects of online learning after the pandemic

Online learning provides better accessibility options for various types of learners

PHOTO: Chris Montgomery / Unsplash

By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer

I’ll be the first to admit that remote learning simply doesn’t work for me: my deadlines get lost into the abyss of Canvas modules, I find it more difficult to engage with my classmates, and I find it a bit harder to ask for help over Zoom feedback sessions (especially because my internet doesn’t like to cooperate!). But just because I have problems with remote learning doesn’t mean SFU shouldn’t continue to invest in it, not just as a way to make learning possible during the pandemic, but also more accessible once we make a full return to campus.

Something I really value in my lectures is they are both recorded and auto-captioned. I find it difficult to properly hear what my lecturer is saying sometimes, so having captions really does make it easier for me to understand lesson concepts. In a similar vein, if I have something that distracts me in the middle of my lecture, or if I’m not feeling well and can’t focus, it’s useful to have the lecture accessible to view later.

I think incorporating recorded lectures with captions going forward would be a good tool to add on top of having in-person classes. It’s necessary to make university learning more accessible, as many students have different accessibility needs. Some may find remote learning more approachable, as there may be less sensory stimuli associated with asynchronous lectures. Students can focus on their screens rather than a moving professor and the noises of classmates in lecture halls.

Having courses available to take online would also make sense physically: SFU has three campuses. Transiting between campuses takes at least an hour, so it would be hard to schedule required courses at different campuses with time conflicts. There have been many courses that I had to wait a semester to take because I couldn’t make the transit time between campuses. Reviewing SFU’s undergraduate student survey, 75% of students were able to register in all of the required courses they wanted this term, higher than the 68% of previous years. 

When I took online classes prior to the pandemic, the lectures were pre-recorded, but they’d be filmed at a distance where I couldn’t hear the professors properly. I couldn’t interact with the professor in that period, and breaks were recorded as well, so I found it difficult to get important information from those classes. Something I appreciate about having lessons done through Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate is the option to participate in the chat and having the professor or TA respond to me in real-time. 

A big barrier preventing me from being excited for an almost full return to campus is COVID-19. It’s not certain COVID-19 won’t be a threat when we return to campus this fall. International students may face barriers like having difficulty accessing vaccines if vaccines aren’t distributed at a higher rate internationally. SFU has not released guidelines on whether students can quarantine in residence buildings, so they may also find it difficult to do so when asked to return to campus for the semester. I feel hesitant about returning to almost full capacity in the fall and would feel reassured knowing I can safely access the same lessons at home.  

Having shown that SFU is capable of having remote learning available for students already, I see no reason why they can’t continue. Removing asynchronous delivery and closed captioning in lectures would only introduce more barriers to education students. We should be able to have alternatives available for how we choose to participate in classes.