ALESTLE VIEW: Educators should acknowledge the diversity in online learning environments

Professors and other educators who enforce that mics and cameras must be on during the entirety of an online class fail to acknowledge the diversity of student circumstances and the conditions they have in which to learn.


When professors enforce that mics must be on during an entire class, they are assuming that every single student has a quiet and isolated place to work, free of distractions, outside interruptions or other people in general. It can be even more stressful for students when there is the possibility of being punished- either by deducting participation points, or being called out in class for not being able to follow the rigid rules set in place. 


For many students on campus, they will often have an online class followed by an in-person class, typically less than 15 minutes apart. For these students, they must find a quiet place on campus to set up for the class. If they know that they must have their mic on for a class and the class requires vocal participation, they may hesitate to set up in the library, as it can be busy and full of other students working. 


If students have the option to stay in their dorm, apartment or even at home, the promise of a quiet, distraction free space is not guaranteed. According to Statista, the national percentage of undergraduate students who live either on or off-campus with another person, this includes living at home with parents, is 96 percent. Only four percent of students live alone. Most students live with another person, which means there is always going to be a possibility of noise or distractions in the background. Students who live in dorms often have zero chance for privacy as there are no separate rooms in traditional dorms. 


SIUE also has a decent number of students who are parents or have chosen to continue their education while raising children. Many of these parents choose online classes because they provide a type of flexibility that an in-person class would not allow. These students may opt to have their mics off for the entirety of a class because they have a fussy baby.. Educators who enforce that mics and cameras must be on the whole class period, and enforce penalties for those who do not follow the rules, become ignorant to the fact that most students do not have access to a distraction free environment. 


In the most basic sense as well, sometimes technology just doesn’t work. Microphones or headphones die in the middle of a class, or Zoom refuses to connect. Students shouldn’t be penalized for technology refusing to cooperate. 


Students understand why these rules are important. They help ensure students pay attention during a virtual class, especially when Zoom fatigue can set in. But, if students are penalized for circumstances outside their control, they may feel like they are being set up for failure. Educators cannot blindly set rules and refuse to allow for accommodations. Students also must take personal responsibility and put the same amount of effort into a virtual class as they would an in-person class. 


Students aren’t asking for free passes or the excuse to blow off class, but for accommodations and grace. Many professors have been wonderful, allowing students to choose whether or not they choose to have their mics on the whole class and working with students when there are technical difficulties. But for the few professors who penalize students for not being able to turn their mic on, understanding and compassion can do more for a student’s education than fear of being failed. 

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