OPINION | Online seat restrictions are obsolete

Phoebe Hurwitz, Contributing Writer

This semester, in sorting through various courses which fulfilled Newcomb-Tulane College coursework and major requirements, many students paid particular attention to the “Type” identifier. Courses this semester were classified by two types: Lecture/Tech Enhanced or Online Course. Although not always feasible, whenever possible, certain students opted to register for online courses. 

Even students with a desire to challenge themselves academically succumb to the appeal of online classes because they feel significantly less demanding, along with implied COVID-19 safety. The ability to roll out of bed minutes before class starts and attend in the comfort of your own room is indeed a luxury. Participation, too, seems like a far less daunting beast. Further, professors are aware of the difficulties of speaking over someone in a Zoom meeting and the awkward exchanges of “Oh, sorry, you go.” As a result, some professors adjusted their expectations to match a scarcity of student voices and opted for a much more lenient grading scale.

In classes where students attend both in-person and virtually, however, participation is increasingly problematic. Unaware of when the in-person students are going to speak, Zoom students remain silent, often contributing only to be interrupted by an in-person student, forcing professors to reconcile the awkwardness with little success. 

As the conventional system of participation deteriorates, replaced by technologically-enhanced means or simply crumbling to nonexistence, there is no longer a rational argument in support of maximum seat capacities for online courses. 

Frequently, students cannot register for courses that interest them or are required due to a lack of available seats. With that in mind, why are maximum seat capacities for classes still in place, especially considering that the university adapted to unprecedented circumstances in so many other respects? 

Many argue that, despite Zoom making participation more difficult, it is a component of education worth fighting for. Without class discussions and student voices, proponents for seat capacity restriction argue that a critical part of the learning experience is lost with the lifting of the seat limit. Further, they defend this argument by citing many of Tulane students’ decision to attend the university on the basis of small class sizes.. 

Unfortunately, our current circumstances necessitate flexibility. The university should not ignore the opportunities that an adjusted learning model has presented us. Indeed, even in smaller classes, there is already a feeling of disconnect. The existence of small class sizes so teachers and students can build a more personal relationship does not account for the computer screen’s social barrier. A shared space is a learning environment, a collection of students, a professor, desks and a white board, defined by the physical nature of the space and the shared experience of inhabiting it. This does not exist in the virtual world. Why defend an already dead space?   

While there are many things that we wish could go unchanged, adversity demands adaptation. Maintaining seat limits for online courses is a manifestation of our fear of change. Ultimately, however, they do more to inconvenience students than benefit them, and in an already tumultuous year, perhaps we should focus on limiting these unnecessary inconveniences rather than persons in a Zoom class.