The Emergency Remote Learning Experience

So, I’m thinking about the emergency remote learning experience, from the student’s perspective. Probably most people reading this already have some fairly strong opinions about the Emergency Remote Teaching experience — I’d be happy to devote some time to opinions that anybody chooses to e-mail to ontariocollegeprof@yahoo.com (anonymity will be preserved), but I right now, my thoughts are on my students.

Which brings me to an article in yesterday’s Washington Post, entitled “For college freshmen, pandemic results in a first-year experience unlike any other”. Much of it concerns the somewhat predictable (and not unreasonable) dismay of the cohort that was denied the experience of Senior prom and high school graduation, and is now being denied the freshman experience that most of us likely did experience and enjoy.

But one quoted student captured my attention:

“The degree is more than just a piece of paper,” Abatemarco said. “It’s about the relationships that you make there in person. All of that has really been taken away. All of that is really nonexistent at this point.”

The degree is about the relationships, because education is about relationships — the relationship between teacher and student. That’s it — that’s at the core. And the less that relationship can develop, the less education can occur.

Another student quoted in the article reinforces this:

So he is plugging away at online courses: marketing, microeconomics, theology, sociology, a first-year seminar, Excel. He was grateful that professors held casual Zoom meetings outside class. One of them had an informal “dinner” with him and other students over a video link. His main human contact, outside of the family, is meeting with a few friends from Long Island. “We have a joint bond in recognizing how brutal the last three months of school have been,” he said.

An informal dinner with students? Sounds like a great idea. Sounds like something that I wish I could have done. Sounds utterly bloody impossible, given the workload demands of Emergency Remote Teaching, and Ontario Colleges’ general failure to acknowledge those demands.

Informal dinner, or meaningful individualized feedback on their actual work? Or perhaps neither?

One interesting test of the quality of the student learning experience — the quality of the educational experiences provided by Ontario Colleges through Emergency Remote Teaching — will be seeing what percentage of the current cohort of students end up providing alumni donations to their respective colleges.

Because what is the motivation behind alumni donations? Memories. Of educational experiences. Of relationships. Of the faculty who knew and impacted you personally. Of the students that you worked and socialized with. Of the groups and clubs that you were able to participate in.

All of which is not simply to say that education isn’t best when it’s in the context of an experience; it’s to say that it doesn’t exist except as an experience, and the quality of education is directly related to the quality of the experience.

Which reminds me of a slogan that I painted on a picket sign once upon a time:

How can I know my students’ needs when I don’t know their names?

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