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College isn’t about learning, and other reasons why online classes are not the best

“The term is pass fail, I should totally take that 5-days-a-week 1A lab science”

Oh boy, do I regret thinking this.  Five weeks into my physics class, I am ready to say that I should not have taken it. 

See, I, following the vision of the liberal arts ideal, thought I would finally branch out. Finally something that isn’t math, computer science or political science. So I settled on physics. Different, but not too different, while also fulfilling my graduation requirements. If I didn’t do as well, it’s okay, it’s a S/Cr/NC term. So I registered for it, choosing to ignore my friend when he said “You do realize you still have to do the work, regardless of the fact that it’s pass/fail?”

After five four-hour do-it-yourself type labs, and numerous hours on Panopto watching lectures, I’ve realized: I am not enjoying any part of it. While my professor is one of the most approachable, reasonable and even entertaining instructors I’ve had, the material is just not going through the same learning process as in-person classes. 

I am very sure that I was not unique in my line of thinking that when I chose my classes this term. I am also very sure that I am not the only one struggling in said classes. If this is the case, then I feel obliged to tell you: This term is not representative of your intelligence or work ethic. It is more likely the case that you are struggling because the class is online.  

On the flip side, it doesn’t count if you are “exploring” a new field this term. My terrible experience so far in my physics class is not representative of what a true physics class at Carleton is like. As such, I can’t be a hypocrite, and say that I’m not performing at my best, when the class and professor are likely not doing so either. This is especially bad for those in intro-level classes. I have a bad foundation and bad experience so far in physics. This does not lend itself for the opposite to happen should I choose to continue taking classes in the department.

Online classes are not college. They’re purely academic proceedings. When they’re paired with none of the significantly more important aspects of being a student, motivation dies. No motivation leads to poor work ethic, and the ease of access of cheating resources sure does not help. Clubs, friendships, relationships and community-living are not a part of college, they are college. 

I will not even bother discussing learning environments, and how online classes do not permit for diverse learning methods to take place. This is already an obvious fact. It’s also an obvious fact that most are not enjoying them. Still, we have no one to blame for them, and that just makes it that much harder. 

Truth is, college is barely about getting an education. The four plus year journey everyone in a higher learning institution is undergoing is more akin to that of a personal growth process. A degree does not signify intelligence or wisdom. Not having one does not signal lack of education. That personal growth process takes different shapes for different people, for some, it does not mean college (whether the job market is reflective of this is another question). So when we take online classes, it feels like this personal growth is stifled, or at the very least paused. 

At least for me, I know that after graduation, I’ll value what I learned way less than what I went through. I probably won’t remember what I learned online this term, but I’ll remember the effort I had to put into it.

But what do I know, I’m just a first-year. 

One Comment

  1. Mark Nowak Mark Nowak May 11, 2020

    College is most definitely about learning. It may not be just about learning, but it most definitely is about learning: accumulating knowledge and the ability to work with it, laying the foundations of being able to add to it and even share it. College provides the setting for learning how to learn effectively and efficiently. It hones the ability to distinguish between what’s important and what isn’t. It provides opportunities to learn how to collaborate with others (work in teams as they say), how to make the most of every experience, and how to recognize value in the perspectives of others that may differ from yours.

    To society at large a college degree confers a sense of confidence in (by providing evidence of) a person’s ability to learn, work with others and have the patience and ability to finish what they start. (Think Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha: “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.”)

    You are right that college isn’t just about learning, and we grow in priceless ways from our the unique experiences college provides, but it’s not a zero sum game — a person doesn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. To diminish the importance of learning aspect would be a tragic mistake and jeopardize a once in a lifetime opportunity. It would be a terrible thing to finish college without learning … anything.

    So as with much in life when there are unforeseen circumstances and turns in the road: Enough with the excuses and cop outs! Make the best of it and get back to work!

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