Remote learning was not widespread at traditional academic institutions. It even carries the stigma that the quality of education is inferior to in-person classes. 

Amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, all educational institutions shifted to remote learning in spring due to widespread lockdowns being imposed countrywide as coronavirus cases spread across the country.

The New York Times has reported 321,000 COVID-19 cases at 1,700 colleges through the end of November.

Academic Institutions that reopened in the fall semester, for in-person classes were impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak on their campuses and many institutions returned to online learning to manage the situation.

Students at Orange Coast College will continue to attend remotely in the Spring 2021 semester as Southern California remains in the purple tier and battles rising COVID-19 cases. As 2020 comes to an end, OCC students have now completed nine months remote learning since in-person lectures moved online in March. 

Remote learning, or “e-learning” as it was known in the pre-pandemic environment, gave students a window of opportunity to gain value-adding skills otherwise not possible for students with families and full-time work commitments.

Massive open online course (MOOC) platforms like Khan Academy, Coursera, and Udemy provide access to knowledge at nominal fees where traditional four-year universities don’t.

In a MOOC class full access to all the lectures and course work are available 24/7 from the time you enroll, whereas the traditional online courses are consumed online, on real time, instead of in a classroom. In a traditional online class, the lecture content can be accessed once it is delivered

Now, remote learning has become the “new normal” to managing life in the pandemic.

There are three types of online classes offered by academic institutions during the lockdown period: synchronous (streamed at a specific time in person), asynchronous (anytime, anywhere learning), and hybrid (combination of synchronous and asynchronous). Currently, OCC offers all three types to students, including in-person classes in some fields.

In the survey, “Opinions of online college students on quality of online education U.S 2020,” 41% of the students surveyed said their college-level online learning experiences were better than their classroom experiences.

Online vs Classroom experience

According to E-Learning Industry.com, a knowledge sharing platform on the e-learning industry, the pros of online learning are efficiency, affordability, learning styles, accessibility of time, and place. The cons are the inability to focus on screens, isolation, teacher training, and managing screen time.

The real consumers, the students, themselves can only attest to the pros and cons of online learning versus traditional in-person classes. While each student’s experience with remote learning is unique and cannot be generalized there are shared experiences noticeable among the students at OCC.

Katelynn Doyle, 18, history major, prefers non-Zoom-based, asynchronous classes. The benefit of taking online classes for her is the convenience and flexibility to work around a personal schedule, especially with the non-Zoom, prerecorded classes. “I think online classes are more convenient. Especially, the ones on my own time, because then I could work it around my actual work schedule and still get things[done],” Doyle said. “I tend to learn more in them, and I tend to pay attention more than the ones with the Zoom calls.”

All her classes for the spring semester will be non-Zoom based. “I think the main advantage that I’m experiencing is I tend to get work done on-time more than I did while I was [taking] in person [classes],” she said.

Not having to leave your home and commute to college was an advantage felt by Kirstein, an English major at OCC. “I think that I am less late to my classes now. I’m attending more [classes]. There’s no traffic or anything like that. So, I feel I am going to more classes, which is something I wasn’t expecting,” she said.

One of the disadvantages to online learning for Jasmine is the self-isolation that came with being at home throughout during remote learning in the pandemic.

“There is not much of social interaction with other students. If you wanted to have a study session with someone, you really [need to] take the initiative to just reach out and talk to a person, where in normal classes you would kind of just turn to your partner and say, ‘hey [do] you [want to] study?’” Kirstein said.  “I would say [not having] the social interaction is definitely a disadvantage.”

She prefers Zoom-based classes because “seeing someone face to face is just better, just because you can ask more questions.”

Not having an instructor to communicate in real-time and in-person has created a hurdle in clarifying the lecture material for Jesus Mojarro, an aircraft maintenance major, at OCC. “For certain things, it is very hard. Because with the instructor there you can understand it better,” he said.

On the other hand, Mojarro also experienced the advantage of having classes online. It has helped him take better notes and has provided flexibility to study anytime, anywhere.

“The good thing about [online] is that we can go back and re-watch the videos days later or weeks later and then we could also pause and rewind them several times,” he said.

Another advantage to remote learning is being able to access course work anytime.  “You[can] look on your phone and sometimes at work you can do your homework because there’s not necessarily [a fixed] timeframe,” Mojarro said.  “[You] then take solid notes. The best notes ever.”

A downside to remote learning is students not having access to many of the resources and facilities available at OCC, such as the library and study spaces. For Mojarro the food bank at OCC made a big difference. It allowed him to get a snack daily including the groceries. “The free groceries also made a big difference on what I had to eat at home,” he said.

For Sara Sambolich, an anthropology major at OCC, remote learning requires a lot of self-discipline and self-motivation. “It is hard when you are not in person with your peers and not sharing your ideas in real-time, she said. “You have to be very self-motivated to do online work. It is [a] bit harder to stay on a schedule and to really be on top of turning things in on a timely manner. That has been a challenge.”

She prefers Zoom-based to non-Zoom-based because “at least you are seeing face-to-face and you are hearing voices—you are seeing nonverbal communication.”

So, what has helped the students to survive remote learning during the pandemic?

Tips for learning from home

For Dorri Mang, adjunct professor of communications at OCC, shifting to remote learning was challenging and required extra work. “You have to really do [a] lot more work to make the Zoom environment feel like a classroom and to facilitate learning the same way you would in a classroom,” she said.

For her, the learning curve was extensive at the beginning. “I have been trying to constantly update as much as I could with my teaching style,” Mang said.

To benefit the students, she has been recording the lectures. “{Students] who didn’t have access to internet or were not able to get online at the time of the class, still had acceptable lectures and all the learning,” she said.

Mang said remote learning has its “merits.”

“There is [a] certain organization that comes [in] to play with online teaching because everything is on Canvas,” she said.

Mang gets to see her student up closer on Zoom. “I would get the nuances of students' facial expressions and react to what I would [be] teaching. Putting [students] in [a] breakout room too is helpful,” she said.

She said remote learning is an advantage to students and teachers, based on their life situations.”

In California, all community colleges, the California State University System, and the University of California System are doing remote learning this Academic year. “That is unusual for us in higher education,” said Dr. Pamela Walker, OCC interim Vice President of Instruction.

“We have the grandest of opportunities that we come to campus, and we have the opportunity to sit in the classroom and speak to faculty members. [We] have all these great dialogues. That is part of all this educational philosophy,” she said.

The transition to remote learning was not an easy task, but OCC provided several training programs to facilitate the process. “Faculty and administrators worked very hard, to do everything they could to teach all our faculty, all the tools, and techniques in distance learning,” Walker said.

The pandemic has made paradigm shifts in human behavior in almost every aspect of life from working at home to buying groceries. Walker said the academic sector will also experience noticeable changes in the future as the pandemic evolves. “Distance education in some way will be part of the fabric of all of the colleges forever because of the [pandemic],” she said.

Before the pandemic, OCC offered less than 5% of its total classes remotely.  In the future, OCC is likely to offer classes, both online and in-person for the same course because some faculty “may want to teach some of their classes online and this will be a significant conversation going forward,” Walker said.

There will be some students that will take classes remotely in post pandemic based on their preferences. But there will be “others who are going to be racing back to campus as fast as they can,” Walker said.

If students have any difficulties or grievances, Walker said they should reach out to counselors. OCC faculty should be their first contact for such help, Walker added.

The OCC website is a resource for students who need help during the remote learning period. The link “Don’t worry, we are here for you” at the bottom of the OCC website will provide the students with resources from where they can get support.

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