OPINION: Zoom education should never be the new normal

A female college student sits at a table with school supplies and an open computer and participates in a class over Zoom.
Lee Enochs CGU ’22 argues that while remote learning through Zoom is better than nothing, education exclusively through video conferencing is an inadequate approach, especially at the current price point. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

By many accounts, 2020 has been one of the worst years for California in recent memory. From the catastrophic wildfires that have caused so much damage and loss of life to the unparalleled hardship and devastation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, this beautiful state and our country have been through the most calamitous of circumstances. 

Without mentioning the innumerable other hardships the pandemic and other environmental and social maladies have wrought this golden state, I would like to address the hardships many of my classmates and I are experiencing due to the almost complete shutdown of the Claremont Colleges.

As a first year graduate student in politics at Claremont Graduate University, it is a high honor to study at this great academic institution whose stellar academic reputation drew me into the “Claremont orbit.”

Truth be told, I wanted to study at the Claremont Colleges for most of my life but was not sure if I had what it took to be a student here. However, after years of preparation, I finally applied and was admitted as a student this past January — a few weeks before all the 5C campuses closed down due the current pandemic. Since the closing of the Claremont Colleges, the vast majority of learning at the 7Cs has been conducted remotely through Zoom. 

While this form of education is better than not studying at CGU and the other campuses at all, something appears to be exceedingly amiss about it all. Gone from our educational process this semester is the vital interpersonal contact with our professors and fellow classmates that we used to have. Gone is our ability to come on campus and personally use the library, as well as the phenomenal academic resources previous generations of Claremont students had at their disposal and perhaps took for granted.

Gone from this education is the necessary “physicality” many of our majors and degree programs require. In short, receiving an education exclusively through video conferencing is a substandard and inadequate pedagogy.

Since time immemorial, students have received their education through hands-on learning and personal interactions with their professors and academic peers. The mere fact that some believe video conferencing is a sufficient approach to acquiring an education does not make it so.

Additionally, it should be put to debate if an exclusive video conferencing education is worth the price many of us students are paying. While there has not been a decreaseincluding at CGU — in the cost of tuition for this video conferencing education, the total academic experience of receiving a degree via video conferencing is not commensurate with the education we were receiving before the current pandemic struck. 

A strong argument can be made for a significant reduction in the cost of our tuition since our learning has been reduced to an exclusively online format. Why pay for student fees if we don’t have access to the things we normally pay for? 

During my many social media chats and other conversations with my classmates, the general feeling I have come away with is that many want to return to campus when it is safe to do so in order to continue their lives and academic careers as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and interrupted all of our lives. However, some of my classmates and professors are now saying it is likely that we will not return to in-class learning at the Claremont Colleges until the fall of 2021. It looks like we are stuck with an exclusively online education for the foreseeable future.

With the prospect of ongoing exclusively online education for the next couple of semesters, I am left wondering if this is the best approach to resuming education or if there is a way to resume in-class learning through a hybrid approach, where there is a combination of in-class learning (with proper social distancing) and video conferencing. I think it is vitally important in this new era of electronic conferencing education to be mindful that this is only a temporary situation that we should never accept as the status quo for receiving and imparting academic instruction going forward.

I want to recall to our memory what college and university life was before this pandemic struck. While receiving an education through electronic conferencing may be adequate for some, this method of instruction should not be the sum total of our entire educational experience. Learning via Zoom should never be accepted as the “new normal” for education in California. 

Lee Enochs CGU ’22 is a first-year graduate student in the school of politics at Claremont Graduate University and can be reached at lee.enochs@cgu.edu

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