Allard: A Remote Possibility

Remote learning should be a permanent offering.

by Sydney Allard | 4/9/20 2:00am

When Dartmouth announced its intention to host the entire spring term online, many students and professors were both disappointed and anxious. It was nearly impossible to imagine how the Dartmouth experience would translate to a remote format. As expected, attending Dartmouth virtually has not been the same as the on-campus experience. However, in our first week and a half of remote learning, professors have been remarkably innovative and accommodating. The online format, and the hard work of professors to make it work well, have allowed many students to continue their education relatively smoothly in spite of the challenges of learning from home. If Dartmouth can accommodate all 6,500 of its students learning in a remote format with only three weeks’ notice, the College should be able to offer a remote option for undergraduates who might need to take a term at home in the future.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to remote learning, students face new challenges this term. Some live in crowded homes, while others face unprecedented financial strain or have to care for younger siblings or sick parents. Professors have been sensitive to these difficulties; many have offered flexible due dates, lifted enrollment caps and extended deadlines for assignments. 

This, however, is not the only time that external circumstances have prompted some students to stay at home for an academic term. Many of my own friends from Dartmouth have had to take medical leave, while others needed to stay home and care for relatives for a term. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made these problems more widespread, but they have always existed and will continue to exist long after the pandemic is over. The Dartmouth administration should retain the remote learning option permanently — alongside the on-campus experience — for students who may need to opt into it in the future. 

The permanent option of remote learning in extenuating circumstances would make Dartmouth a more accessible institution. Rather than telling students who need to spend a term at home that they must pause their college career, the College should offer such students the option to take certain curated courses that can be offered remotely. This option would allow the College to accommodate students who encounter unexpected difficulties that require them to return home, but who still wish to complete their Dartmouth degrees.

Introducing a remote learning option in addition to the current on-campus format would not be easy, but the early success of this term’s online courses proves that the challenges of learning from home are not insurmountable. Dartmouth could introduce virtual options for lecture-style, less participation-heavy courses like some government and economics courses, science lectures and nearly all introductory survey courses — ECON 1, “The Price System,” PSYC 1, “Introductory Psychology” and ANTH 1, “Introduction to Biological Anthropology,” are a few examples. Many professors of such courses already record their lectures and accept assignments online. A number of courses, like EDUC 20, “Educational Issues in Contemporary Society,” already administer video quizzes, and other courses offer take-home or online exams, like GOVT 60.17/MES 12.05, “Arab Political Thought.” 

One of my close friends recently lost a parent unexpectedly, and she immediately faced the difficult decision of whether to stay home to take care of her younger sibling or return to Dartmouth. Applying for a transfer term at a local institution would have introduced more paperwork, stress and disruption into her life, and taking a leave term would mean that she would not graduate with her friends. A remote option for a term would have solved this dilemma. 

Students who can’t be in Hanover can, of course, elect to take a transfer or leave term. But taking a leave term could mean postponing graduation and could exacerbate disruptions. What’s more, many students don’t have the luxury of taking extra time to complete a degree before entering the workforce. Though taking a transfer term at a local university could be a solution, the coordination and logistics create more work for students in already difficult situations. If we can help our students who are needed at home — which the success of this first week online has shown we can — our community would be stronger for it. Our students would feel supported by the College in times of need, rather than feel that they have to find their own way through mountains of paperwork, struggle to adjust to a new institution during a transfer term or catch up on classes upon their return to campus.

It is true that remote learning does not encompass the full Dartmouth experience. Some courses that require in-person instruction would be impossible to complete in a remote format. Yet, this term has proved that online classes are at least feasible in many departments. Personally, I would always elect to learn on-campus rather than remotely. But I am not caring for ailing family members or in need of medical treatment myself. If I weren’t so fortunate, I would certainly choose to enroll in a remote Dartmouth term. 

We should learn from the present situation and the College’s response, and try to mold Dartmouth into an institution that makes space for varying circumstances at all times — not just when a pandemic strikes. Our College has proven how well we can accommodate each other when we really try. Dartmouth is nothing if not a strong community, and a remote learning option would make our community more accomodating and even stronger.