OPINION | Farewell to online learning

Gabi Liebeler, Staff Writer

Tulane had a good run with Zoom learning, but maybe it’s time to move on. (Ashley Chen | Art Director)

As COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed en masse around the country, the end of the pandemic is finally in sight. For the majority of Tulane University students, the social and academic environment is vastly different from what it used to be. First-year students have yet to discover what Tulane is really like.

Students, faculty and staff alike cannot wait for the pandemic to be over. But, Tulane’s administration must ask itself important questions as this school year wraps up and it starts to plan for the 2021-22 academic year.

Virtual, asynchronous and hybrid learning have taken over the educational sphere as the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered the academic landscape. Should any aspects of pandemic-style learning be incorporated into the learning environment post-pandemic? 

The answer is clear: few, if any.  

While virtual learning makes schedules more flexible and classes more accessible, they detract from the actual quality of education. Zoom classes are much more conducive to lecture-style learning, which disadvantages liberal arts and humanities classes, specifically ones in discussion and participation-based settings.

It becomes more difficult to form communities when school occurs online. Campus Explorer cites limited interaction with instructors, lack of social interaction and campus environment as downsides of virtual school. Tulane students are well aware of these downsides. Even potential upsides of virtual school, like time and location flexibility, availability, 24/7 access to course material and increased self-direction can make it increasingly difficult for students with learning disabilities and accommodations to focus and complete their work on time.  

Online classes increasingly remove students from academic communities that serve to enrich not only a student’s academic life, but also their civic life. With the perpetuation of online instruction, school becomes more separate from student life. Gone will be the moments outside of the classroom where students actually learn with their peers when class discussions extend outside the school house and into common rooms, meals and passing conversations.  

As online colleges and courses become more popular, already elite universities are realizing that they can profit massively if they direct more resources to their online curricula. If Tulane chooses to embark on this path, liberal arts, the humanities and arts already underfunded and ignored will continue to suffer. The most popular majors — business, management, marketing and related support services — will receive even more funding and attention. 

In his book, “Excellent Sheep,” former Yale professor William Deresiewicz comments on the derisive effects of massive open online courses: “Replacing traditional courses with MOOCs would be like taking children away from a neglectful mother and handing them over to a wire monkey. MOOCs are not about democratizing education.  That is just their cover story. They’re about reinforcing existing hierarchies and monetizing institutional prestige.”  Deresiewicz is exactly right.  

Tulane does not advertise itself as a liberal arts college it emphasizes its reputation as a leading research university. However, Tulane likes to remind potential students that they will still get attention from small classes and prestigious professors. Students, if they choose to, can reap the benefits of both a strong humanities program and a research institution. 

Does Tulane want to continue to use its reputation as a source of prestige and profit? Or, does Tulane want to work with what they already have: a bright and innovative student body with great potential for critical thinking and upstanding citizenship? Tulane should nurture its world-renowned programs, students and faculty, instead of trying to profit off a system of education that is antithetical to its goals.