By Will Butak
Online classes have been the norm for about a year now; however, as vaccination rates increase and reasons to not meet in-person for classes decrease, one must wonder if online class availability will dissipate, or if it will continue being an option for classes at SNC. On one side, online learning allows students to have access to classes from anywhere, but others may argue that these classes are disrupting the culture that SNC is known for, taking away the in-person contact with professors that have a reputation for getting to know their students. In order to capture the arguments of both sides, I reached out to the two groups of people affected most by online classes — students and professors — to better understand their opinions on the matter.
Many argue that online class availability should remain an option, as it provides more access to students who may not be able to attend class that day. Nate Makuck ‘23 states, “I think the hybrid offers a very good sense of convenience because it’s normally in person but you have the online option, it allows for more flexibility.” Instead of moving from solely online classes, an argument can be made that a compromise is possible. With a similar message, Emma Merrill ‘23 says, “Online classes allow students to stay up to date on class material even when they are unable to attend class in person. On the other hand, I think having an online portion can also be a hindrance to academic performance for many students.” Moving classes from online-only to a hybrid-style can allow students and professors flexibility in where class takes place. Agreeing with this argument, Luke Johnson ‘21 stated that ideally, he would prefer an in-person class, but can see some benefits to online classes. He says, “There have been a few instances where myself and other students I know need to travel home or cannot make it to class if they are not feeling well, and it’s nice to know that you can still attend class without being there physically. In these situations, having online class is very convenient.” Online class availability makes class more accessible for students, regardless of their situation. There are benefits of online options to courses.
It can also be argued that a hybrid-style class can be difficult for professors to operate, as it would be difficult to achieve the intended nature of the classroom if half the class if present and half of the class is on a Zoom call. Dr. John Holder (Philosophy) states, “From a faculty perspective, I do not develop a high level of rapport with students when I cannot interact with them in person—this has implications for the quality of instruction in a philosophy class where students are asked to think about such things as personal beliefs and values.” At a small school like St. Norbert College, we are known for the connections formed between students and their professors, and Dr. Holder argues that this connection cannot be made if there is not face-to-face interaction. Similarly, Dr. Jamie Lynch (Sociology) brings up the fact that St. Norbert College is known for its personal interactions between students and professors. He says, “We have put a lot of work into making the in-class experience good, so at an institution like ours, there is little benefit for having online-only classes.” Dr. Andrew O’Connor (Theology) agrees with this point, saying, “I think that online hybrid/classes are convenient adaptations when needed—such as during the COVID-19 pandemic—but I think that students and faculty as a whole prefer in-person classes and they will likely remain the norm.” Though a good substitution to continue education during the pandemic, it seems that a strong argument is made regarding the quality of education and connection between students that comes with in-person classes. If St. Norbert College moves away from traditional, in-person classes, the communio that we strive for each and every year will not be as present as it would be with in-person classes.
An argument can also be made that students having access to all recorded lectures can lead to unaccountability in keeping up with the information. Rather than even attending over a Zoom call, students could potentially not join class at all and resort to watching the lectures on their own time. Dr. Jon Russel (Chemistry) posits, “Recording lectures if individuals must be away is reasonable, but it should not be standard operating procedure.” If a student does not attend class at all, it can be argued that they will not acquire information like they would if they were present synchronously, where they are able to interact with the material and ask questions.
There are a range of opinions about whether or not SNC should offer online classes. On one side, you gain convenience and ease of access, whereas on the other side, we could lose a portion of the very thing that St. Norbert College is known for: community. Moving forward, these are the two aspects of student life that will need to be weighed in order to make a final decision about the format in which classes will be held. Although there is no way to tell right now what the future looks like in terms of class delivery methods, there is one thing that will remain true: the SNC students and staff will do everything in its power to give each and every student a sense of community and belonging, whether that is in-person, or through a computer screen.