Should college students pay the same price for virtual learning? The Hardships and Controversy of Online Learning
By Ethan Sweet, Emily Butao, Eva Galdamez, Halle Tachick

Jeffrey Brody is a professor of Communications and a member of the Asian American Studies Program Council at California State University, Fullerton. He teaches advanced writing classes, courses on mass communication and society, and media and diversity. 

Our opening discussion from the interview with Professor Brody consists of questions that would help us understand the teaching experience from a professor’s point of view during a pandemic. 

Professor Brody stated that the most challenging obstacle for him was being able to maintain student interest. He felt it was very hard to gauge their interactions, especially with many blank screens. One way around this resulted in the Zoom breakout rooms. Students would be split into groups and would each have a specific topic to discuss while Professor Brody would visit each room to hear more personal feedback. He felt that in some ways there were many benefits to it that allowed students much more flexibility for those who are also working full-time jobs.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/27/93percent-of-college-students-say-tuition-should-be-cut-for-online-classes.html

An interesting point he mentioned was how New York was dealing with a commercial real estate crisis as companies found that they were able to maintain the same level of productivity while working from home indicating a lesser need for office spaces. This touches on the topic that you can achieve the same results even from home. This discovery has led a lot of companies to ask the question, “will we ever go back into an office full time as we did before, or will hours and days be adjusted?” Working from home has proved to be just as effective, and also saves the company a ton of money with no overhead space use. 

Another interesting topic that will be a key research question in our project, is if tuition should be adjusted and why. Since school went fully online, I have heard dozens of friends from schools all over the country complain that they are paying for fees and dues that are not even being used. For instance, room and board is a big one. Many students were kicked out of dorms and student housing during COVID but still paying for that cost. There are also a lot of other minor fees such as rec center use and health services that are being charged to students. Other students argue that they should not be paying as much for online school because they feel that learning is not as sufficient and effective. This proposes the big question if students feel tuition is too expensive based on missing the college experience and campus life, if it is due to a worse form of learning, or a combination of both. The chart below is Cal State Fullerton’s 2021 Spring tuition and registration fees. As one can see, a total of $605.12 is added on to tuition just from campus-based fees that are not even being used. Multiply that by two for the full 2020-21 academic year, and that is $1210.24 added onto student fees.

Source: https://sfs.fullerton.edu/documents/2021%20Spring%20Registration%20Fees.pdf

The college experience consists of hanging out on campus, participating in clubs and school events, being able to attend sports games, getting to use the library and other on-campus school resources, and making connections with fellow peers and teachers. Now, all of these opportunities are gone and we barely know who our fellow peers are in the classroom.

The other side of college is the actual learning experience. At first, students were excited to be online for what we believed to be was going to be a short period. No waking up early to drive, no hassle to find parking, no having to get ready, and (sorry to break the bad news teachers), but getting to google absolutely everything for help on assignments and tests. Now, all students have to do is wake up a couple of minutes before class, roll over and turn on Zoom. After the honeymoon phase of online learning wore off, students realized how little information they were retaining and how much motivation was lost in engaging in the classroom.

The lost component of engaging in a classroom led to a lack of focus on the online classes. When on a Zoom call, students have the option to mute their microphones and turn off their cameras. Just as every professor has their own classroom rules, it is up to the professor if the class requires students to turn their cameras on or not. Although a muted microphone and a turned-off camera mean that students are still expected to sit through the whole class and pay attention, this may not always be the case. Professor Brody mentioned in the interview that students are not only lacking full attention to the class material, but they are no longer taking notes as well. Before COVID – 19, on-campus classes created an environment with a lack of distraction. Phones were put away and everyone in the room was focused on learning and studying the same thing. This made it more desirable to stay fully focused throughout the class and take lengthy notes. On Zoom, students can turn off their cameras and be tempted by outside distractions such as the TV, driving, dog barking, showering, etc.

The lack of interaction with the course material also plays into a lack of connection between the students and the professor. With online classes, many students spend a whole semester taking a class without ever knowing what the professor looks like. The same applies to professors.  Some professors never get to see their students smile. This is crucial because seeing students improve and grow are some of the reasons professors even started teaching in the first place. 

Professor Brody made a strong point when asked his opinions of students continuing to pay full tuition even though the courses are fully online with a lack of resources. Although he couldn’t give us a straight answer, Professor Brody brought some good insight to our attention. He explained to us that it depended on our reasoning as students for feeling “slighted.” Professor Brody continues to break it down into two parts. He believes it needs to be determined whether the students feel slighted because in-person learning is better from a motivational aspect or is it the amenities and social aspect of being on the university campus? This means that it needs to be taken into consideration what the students are missing and what they value most. 

Our brief conversation with Professor Brody gave us an understanding of educators’ challenges in an online teaching environment but also opened the conversation to research why college students demand a lower price for tuition and fees for mandatory virtual learning. From our discussion, a combination of academic and social shifts within the past year factor into students’ financial dissatisfaction with university charges.

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