It was a bittersweet moment for many of us who moved back into residence halls this week. It was a pleasure to catch up with old friends and hark back to good times. But, it was also a bit disheartening to see several of the necessary changes on campus. Icebreaker activities like the Moonlight Howl and Run were made virtual, Packapalooza was canceled and general residential hall activities were curbed. It was even more dispiriting when we discovered this summer that most classes will be held in an online format for the semester. Although having classes online is a letdown, it is important to examine the situation from a positive perspective, and when we do, we realize that virtual courses can be exceptionally rewarding.
First and foremost, online courses slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the likelihood of thousands of college students contracting the virus. Introductory courses at NC State are known for having especially large class sizes, which are optimal environments for the virus to spread. Chemistry 101 at NC State, for instance, can have classes that house 270 students and Economics 205 can have classes with 357 students. Given how densely packed the auditoriums are for these courses, switching to online classes would be in the general interest of public health.
Secondly, online courses eliminate the need to pay for housing. With students taking their courses virtually, they no longer have to pay out hefty housing fees. Here at NC State University, for example, the cost of a double room in a residence hall during the 2020-21 term is $3,170 per semester. A four bedroom apartment in Wolf Village is valued at $3,375, and it is $3,840 for a two and three bedroom apartment in Wolf Ridge. At UNC-Chapel Hill, double occupancy in residential halls comes out to around $3,438 a semester. Assuming that they can live with their family or friends free of charge, every student at NC State or UNC-Chapel Hill who transitions to a total online course format could save at least $6,000 a year.
Time flexibility is another hidden gem to taking courses remotely. With asynchronous courses, students can have the freedom to decide when to do their coursework. Furthermore, they can utilize the time they spend in class listening to lectures for other pursuits, such as exercising or reading. The average first-year engineering student takes about 15 to 17 credit hours a semester. This rounds off to about 11 hours of lectures per week. A schedule with asynchronous courses can allow students to spend less time viewing lectures, and it gives them the ability to fast forward through parts with which they are familiar. Even synchronous courses can come in handy. Though they are obviously less flexible than asynchronous courses, they can aid students when it comes to establishing a daily regimen.
In addition, virtual courses completely change the nature of office hours. Prior to the pandemic, office hours were a bit of a hit or a miss. Depending on the course, you could meet with the professor the moment you reached the office or you could spend close to an hour loitering outside the professor’s office. Now, with online courses, students won’t have to gauge whether or not it is worth going to office hours. With a click of a button, a student can instantly meet with a professor, and if he or she is busy, then the student could work on other tasks instead of lingering by the office.
Online courses can be beneficial not only for collegiate students in North Carolina, but also for students in elementary and middle schools. Virtual learning centers such as NCVPS allow students the opportunity to study remotely from home and learn from qualified teachers. These virtual academies are already growing in other counties, including Mecklenburg and Wake. The beauty of such virtual academies is that it does not matter what school district the student is in. So long as the child has access to the internet, he or she can have the ability to learn from a variety of top-tier teachers they may not have had access to in their current schools.
Undoubtedly, it has been a disappointment to see most of our courses transition to an online format. However, if we make use of the hidden benefits virtual courses have to offer, we may be able to emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever.