As cliché as it sounds, we are living in unprecedented times. This is no less true in colleges and universities than it is elsewhere. Most students wishing to continue their studies have been required to take classes, entirely or in part, online for months; this situation is likely to persist for the foreseeable future – potentially, I hear, into the 2021-22 academic year. Especially considering how old-fashioned and slow-moving post-secondary institutions tend to be, this is, indeed, unprecedented.
Is it worth it? Should students keep taking their classes online? A common answer, both inside and outside the academy, is that there are no good reasons why they shouldn’t. Having no direct experience with remote delivery myself (I was in a senior administrative position when this all unfolded last winter, and happen to be on sabbatical leave currently, thus saving me from having to learn how to teach online, all of a sudden), I can’t refute this contention, even if I have some doubts about the efficacy of online study. My reservations notwithstanding, it appears to me plausible that any student who enrolls in a course in which some truth is taught, even if the course is delivered online, with a professor who knows something meaningful about the course topic, will take a guided tour of something worth knowing. Even if doing that online is not ideal, it may do in unprecedented times.
This position, however, has tended to be undergirded by an attitude that is far worse than ideal and is not unprecedented, namely that there’s no sensible alternative. What else is there to do in the wake of a pandemic anyhow? Either take classes online or waste time. Even when deficient, schooling is better than anything else young people could be doing before receiving the credentials supposedly required to access the world of work. This sentiment repeats what young people have been told for decades now: “you have to go to college or university because you can’t succeed, in work or in life, without a degree.”