By Dick Hall-Sizemore
I am taking a course this fall from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. Virtual, of course. The experience leaves a lot to be desired.
First of all, I need to stipulate that I have little ground on which to complain because I do not have to pay any tuition. The state has a program under which Virginia residents over 60 years old can take any course in a state-supported institution of higher education for free. If one has an income below a certain level, the course can be taken for credit; otherwise, no college credits are earned. The other restriction is that tuition-paying students get first crack at courses; the non-payers can enroll only if there is still room in the course on the first day. (I did have to pay for a textbook.)
The professor is obviously not used to teaching a virtual course. I must say, though, that she is doing the best she can. Having taught college courses on an adjunct basis in the past, I think it would be difficult to teach while sitting down and trying to monitor a couple of computer screens. Although she can “see” us, it is hard to establish any one-on-one relationship or contact.
From a student’s perspective, while it is pleasant to be able to sit on my sun porch during the class (or, in the case of one student, on her deck), I miss the camaraderie and feedback from an in-person class. Also, it is awkward trying participate or have a discussion; we are asked to use Zoom’s chat feature. Finally, this is a introductory geology class, which usually has a lab component. Obviously, we do not get to have the fun and learning experience of a lab.
There are a lot of technical problems. This is my first Zoom experience, so I do not know whether these problems are inherent with the platform or the result of something the community college is doing or not doing. On the first day of class, Zoom had problems nationwide and was down. So, no class that day. After that, the main problem has been sound quality. Again, this may the be fault of how the professor has her microphones set up. Sometimes, the sound is garbled; at other times, the words come out very slowly, as if a tape is being played at a slower speed. Then, there are long intervals when there is no sound at all. As for visual, fairly often, the picture of the professor freezes, as if I had hit pause, and then resumes. I assume this has something to do with the video feed being interrupted.
There is one advantage to virtual classes. The sessi0ns are recorded. Therefore, I was able to catch up on the ones I missed while I was at Sandbridge. (I know, I could have watched them from there, but, hey, it was a vacation!)
This is a difficult situation. Kids at all levels are getting shortchanged on their education. I understand, however, the concerns about the virus. There is no good answer. In a way, it is good for me that JSRCC is conducting classes virtually. If it had chosen to have in-school classes, I would not have enrolled in the class. No way am I going to sit in a classroom for two hours, twice a week, with a group of 18-25 year-old young people.
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