Online discussions lack element of human connection

By Julia Pearl | Reporter

With the adaptation of in-person classes to an online format, conversations about class content and readings have also moved online, but does this format take away from students’ discussions?

This semester, I’ve read a number of books for my American Literary Cultures class that have sent me into thought spirals without the outlet of classmates to discuss it with. Similarly, a friend of mine launched into a 20-minute speech explaining opportunity cost, none of which I was able to understand, but I knew exactly how she felt. It’s troubling to engage in class content but not be able to talk to people about what excited you.

Friends and roommates may listen to you talk about your classes, but they fall short in contributing to and challenging your thoughts when they aren’t familiar with the reading or lectures you are referencing.

While professors do their best to create space online for ideas to be shared, professors need students to prove they completed the reading while also exploring their thoughts on the content.

Posting one question for students to respond to ensures fairness, but it often creates a number of other issues. Because all students are required to reply to a discussion for a grade, discussion pages fill up with repetitive responses. It can prove they’ve done the reading, but it doesn’t allow students as many opportunities to express original thoughts about the material.

While lecture-style classes are more easily suited to an online format, classes which rely on discussion or class participation do not give the same experience to students when they are no longer in-person.

College classes are meant to allow students to share ideas and gain more understanding about the content by hearing others’ perspectives, but that’s not always possible when working around the constraints of virtual learning.

Not having a set lecture time is convenient. However, I question whether the ease of a non-synchronous class is worth missing out on live discussions. Frankly, I’m sure my roommates are tired of listening to me explain my thoughts on books they’ve never read.

Some professors have solved a few of these problems by creating smaller discussion groups or offering their office hours as a time to discuss content. While these efforts are helpful in allowing students to express their thoughts, I don’t think it goes far enough. Students may benefit more from open discussion formats rather than a narrow set of questions.

Some professors allow their students to write questions over class material, and students are in turn required to reply to their peers’ questions. This proves students are reading or listening to lectures. It also allows them to challenge other’s perspectives and guide class conversations where they were most interested.

It has been a significant adjustment for both students and teachers to move to an online format. However, as this transition becomes more familiar, both students and teachers should look at where this new medium of instruction and engagement falls short.

This way, we can work together to ensure that Baylor’s mission to educate students is adaptable despite whatever outside factors may challenge us.