Distance learning offers a glimpse into our new dystopian education

The Channels Opinion Pages | STAFF COLUMN

Jacob Frank, Opinion Editor

Jacob Frank

Returning to City College during the ongoing pandemic brings a strange feeling, like summer hasn’t quite ended but the semester hasn’t really begun.

The college’s decision to implement campus-wide distance learning, or online classes, is the cause of this sort of educational limbo. We are still here but not exactly. 

Though the college had no choice, I don’t think digital education could ever compare to physical education.

No, I don’t mean P.E. I mean the vibrant and connective atmosphere of a physical campus. The swarms of students by the West Campus Center, the coastal view and smell of the ocean while passing friends on the bridge is what I’ll miss. 

This doesn’t mean I think we should’ve opened City College either. Some schools across the country are trying but are finding themselves forced to close when cases erupt. This semester may be a glimpse at our future education and society, and we may not like it.

When the lockdowns rocked academia in March, I was optimistic that we’d be back to normal by now. 

It was basically summer and I was surfing instead of schooling. I was sure pandemics and masks would be forgotten by August.

But the fall semester is here, the virus hasn’t left, and the nation has gone remote.

Being online can’t fulfill our social nature for too long, especially for those who excel in face-to-face situations. I feel like I’m in a dystopia when I Zoom too much and I’m cooped up in the house.

Instead of our exuberant campus, we are each confined to LED cubicles with wacky backgrounds and the “You’re on mute… now you’re frozen,” bit.

For now it will do, but some officials envision an educational system without the need of a campus.

During a coronavirus response press conference, New York gov. Andrew Cuomo failed to see the purpose in “all these buildings, all these physical classrooms.”

He plans on working with Bill Gates to “reimagine education” with technology at the forefront, despite mass criticism of their vision and shortcomings in the past.

There’s definitely potential for online learning. Things are always changing and we should embrace change, but never rush it.

Going online won’t fix all of our problems yet, but we can make sure it’s not discouraging students or keeping them from education.

A 2017 study in the American Economic Review approximates that online education does not adequately support a student’s academic achievement or success, and could decrease their probability of enrolling in the future.

I didn’t want to come back to City College because of the online integration. I’m here because I value my education, and wherever there is adversity there is growth.

Nevertheless, what works, what doesn’t and what could be fixed will reveal itself as we become situated with our new digital environment.

Our job now is to hold the school accountable to its promise for quality education. It only hurts the students if we waste our time in classes that come up short.