By The Collegiate Staff
Virtual learning has proven itself to be much more than just a viable option in response to external forces causing educational institutions to shut down nation-wide. With such a sudden and drastic switch to relying almost entirely on technology to continue learning, many of us are beginning to wonder what college will look like once things go ‘back to normal.’
As researchers begin to study the effects of the sudden shift in course instruction and its potential long-term impact on learning, many have found evidence to support that virtual learning is ideal for many people for a variety of reasons.
For some, however, this new era of administering and receiving education through various online platforms has been a nuisance and not ideal compared to a traditional classroom setting. These reasons usually vary from general feelings of loneliness to a genuine distaste for an online learning environment.
The forceful nudge that led colleges to teach primarily through online instruction for the greater part of a year, has offered a lesson of its own – that options are our greatest asset.
What is impossible to refute, is that the availability of various learning options extends the reach of an educational institution far beyond traditional in-person instruction.
The non-monetary factors that dissuade students from attending higher education include unreliable or lack of transportation, commute taking up valuable time and classes mostly being offered during working hours.
Varied class instruction modes were implemented over the past year that opened a door for many students to take advantage of the increased flexibility. The students who could only enroll in two courses a semester due to schedule conflicts could now take four if they can take them in an online format. The students who once didn’t have the option to commute or had difficulty fitting commute times into a busy schedule could participate in class virtually.
While in-person instruction is absolutely necessary for some students and some class material, sometimes it is simply following tradition at the expense of the untraditional or out-of-pocket student.
Looking ahead, this increased level of flexibility and accessibility offered by virtual and online offerings should not just be erased.
The rise of concurrent classrooms in recent years has been a trend focused on adapting to the available technology and needs of non-traditional students. Post-pandemic, this implementation of a classroom that blends virtual and in-person students in a single session could be the innovation that allows colleges to remain competitive and accessible on many fronts.
Although no one would like to prepare for a future pandemic, they are unfortunately always a matter of time. Biologically, they are inevitable. The flip side to that coin is that increased sanitary and distancing measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic will always be an important way to mitigate the spread of viruses. After the current spread of the coronavirus is controlled and things return to some sense of normalcy, there is no doubt that these measures should remain in some capacity.
The implementation of concurrent classrooms would allow colleges to stay ahead of any further health crisis’ by limiting the number of physical students in the classroom. Even if including distancing measures for any future pandemic seems drastic, it does account for the students who may not yet feel comfortable joining a number of in-person classes by allowing them the option to participate virtually without expanding their social circle.
Not every emergency situation is as impactful to the whole institution as a pandemic, however. More day-to-day occurrences such as car trouble, babysitter cancellations and a case of the sniffles can cause students to miss class. An absence doesn’t always hurt their grade, but it often causes them to miss out on important information or classroom dialogue. The added pressure on a student or a professor to play a game of catch-up after an absence can hold them back from success. A concurrent option for a student to attend that same class virtually when these emergencies arise allows for increased flexibility that doesn’t punish them for matters outside of their control.
With relatively small modifications to normal virtual or in-person classrooms, a concurrent classroom can be implemented. Staff training to accommodate such a method would be simple and take little time to do so effectively. Faculty familiar with virtual classrooms will only need the training to learn to equitably incorporate the students on their computer screen into their in-person instruction. Schools across the country have created models for their integration methods, ones that could easily be researched and adapted here at Grand Rapids Community College.
The financial costs of incorporating virtual students into the classroom would be close to nothing on the part of the institution, considering almost every classroom is already equipped with a computer capable of video conferencing, whether by way of personal faculty computers or ones provided by the college.
Integration of concurrent classrooms would be a relatively simple and inexpensive fix to accommodate the everchanging world we live in. With minimal staff training and readily available technology, concurrent classrooms could expand the reach of the college and still maintain a feeling of togetherness among students and faculty.
The vision statement of GRCC aims for the college to provide ‘relevant educational opportunities that are responsive to the needs of the community and inspires students to meet economic, social and environmental challenges to become active participants in shaping the world of the future.’ This style of classroom integration would only further the college’s responsiveness and relevance by offering an innovative solution to build a ‘new normal’ in academia.