UConn needs to make online classes more accessible

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On Aug. 31, University of Connecticut students returned to classes on and off campus. Despite the pandemic still raging across the country, UConn’s administration has hoped that through a combination of online and in-person courses, education can return to some semblance of normalcy. However, despite the fact that many professors seem to want to treat distance learning classes as if they are the same as a normal in-person lecture, there are many new barriers that some professors seem unwilling to address. 

FILE – This April 18, 2019, file photo shows a sign for Zoom Video Communications ahead of the company’s Nasdaq IPO in New York. Zoom’s videoconferencing service is deepening its integral role in life during the coronavirus pandemic as tens of thousands more businesses and other users pay for subscriptions to get more control over their virtual meetings. The surge in paying customers enabled Zoom to hail another quarter of astounding growth in a report released Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Despite what UConn might think, classes over Zoom or Webex are not the same as in-person classes. For starters, there are a number of technological barriers that might make it difficult for students to engage over Zoom and Webex the way they might be able to do in person. I don’t have a good headset with a microphone, which means that I have to use my phone to get onto Webex calls if I want to be able to engage, which is unhelpful because the smaller screen size makes it very difficult to read PowerPoint presentations. 

Other students might have unreliable internet access, or a lack of access to technology in general, which can make signing into online classes a much bigger chore than simply attending classes in person on campus as we normally do. Despite this, it feels as though UConn has taken no meaningful steps to ensure students who have difficulty accessing distance learning classes can still obtain an education, such as requiring all professors to post their PowerPoint slides or videos of the lectures online so they are more accessible. 

This is also very harmful for disabled students, especially those with learning difficulties. Trying to learn in your bedroom or at your kitchen table is not the same thing as in a classroom, and looking at a screen for long periods of time for a lecture can be very hard for people who have difficulty focusing on tasks. In addition, it might be more difficult for these students to read a PowerPoint slides quickly enough to write down all of the notes they need before the presenter is onto the next slide, leaving students lost. 

It wouldn’t be hard for UConn to address these issues. Simply mandating all professors post PowerPoints and/or videos of their lectures on their HuskyCT pages would eliminate some of the barriers for low-income and disabled students, which are two of the most marginalized groups on college campuses. Instead, UConn has seemingly provided very little guidance, at least that students can see, on how to ensure classes are accessible for all students — and while many professors are posting their information online, there are still quite a few who are not.  

One of my professors claimed on Tuesday that they’ve “actually been notified several times that we’re not supposed to give things outside of the time frame.” This would be a relatively concerning thing, but it also seems that, if this information is truly what UConn has told their professors, many are not following it. Numerous professors are posting their PowerPoint slides or videos of their lectures on HuskyCT, making their classes far more accessible. Students of course still have to attend in order to participate, but making the videos and PowerPoints available for reference can only be a positive thing. 

Despite UConn’s desperation to treat this semester as a normal semester, the administrators need to understand that this is not the case. We are all learning in a situation we have never faced before and so it is their duty as administrators and educators to ensure that all students have access to a good, quality education. One way to ensure that is by ensuring that students with all kinds of learning styles are able to learn.  

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