Sometime last week, you may have come across a survey regarding Pass/Fail and opinions on in-person, hybrid, and online classes. As can be seen in the title, I am here to explain why although hybrid was made with the intention of integrating the best of both online and in-person, it still needs time to be better than either. Let’s start by prefacing that I have taken three consecutive school terms, winter 2020 – summer 2020, and so I have seen the development of each type of teaching environment as Kettering reacts to the situation regarding COVID-19.
In the survey, around 90% of people said that in-person is the superior class type they have experienced. I would think this is obvious as most have been taught in person for most of their time in school. Especially here in Kettering, students choose to attend because of the co-op program, focusing on hands-on experience and application of learned topics. Students seem to agree, as one says, “students are loosing [sic] valuable learning experience going into labs and office hours learning on a computer does not give the hands on [sic] experience engineers need”.
Online, on the other hand, is something new for most students. Yet, this is something that has existed in many well-established institutions. Kettering even includes online programs, which are mostly focused on graduate students. Although online cannot replicate an in-person class exactly, it does have its benefits. An online learning style is typically intended for those who have inflexible schedules or cannot commute, and so can learn from anywhere, at any time. For Kettering, online was implemented to follow a typical class schedule, where attendance was required, which I think was fair and simple. However, when Kettering first went online, lectures were not recorded, so that the service provided doesn’t become obsolete. This term (summer 2020), they learned that you must allow some flexibility, and so lectures have started to be recorded. Among other things, online is limited by technical difficulties and communication. Technical difficulties are something one has to expect. As such, again, recording lectures and posting slides or notes is very helpful for those who missed something in class or could not attend because of these issues. Communication, on the other hand, is something that can be fully controlled, yet many professors do not clearly communicate on Blackboard. Students agree that “It feels like there is a disconnect between student and faculty communication,” making it difficult to stay on top of things. By the end of spring 2020, professors were getting the hang of things, they were taught how to use One Note, and were given a tablet. The notes and slides were also uploaded for reference, which ended up being really useful to review.
Regarding hybrid, Kettering attempted to implement in-person classes with social distancing by utilizing partial online lectures. To limit in-person classes, students with the last name in the first half of the alphabet attended the first half of the week and the rest on the other half of the week. Labs were supposed to be rotated between groups each week, but instructors were able to change this to better accommodate their labs. The system as is was quite confusing, but some professors also chose to teach the courses entirely online, making it inconvenient for students to go to class in person. Due to the drop in attendance for in-person classes, Kettering has allowed students who wish to attend class all week as long as they ask ahead of time. In lectures, technical problems are more prevalent. The camera and microphone are separate units to the computer, and the added information being transmitted also adds to the poor connection for students. Knowing that there would be technical difficulties, technical assistance was brought on. I did not find them very helpful at the start of the term, as they did not understand how to fix the camera, mic, or poor connection. Now approaching the end, I have seen them help when the professor has left the camera off, or there are any difficulties with sharing. Even then, I would say that I.T. did most of the work in fixing any of these issues. Aside from technical problems, professors teaching a hybrid class naturally were more attentive to in-person students. The chat was frequently checked, but some gave announcements at the start of the class—those students joining in online miss because of connection issues. During or after giving announcements, they would begin recording the session. Worst of all, some of these announcements were not provided anywhere else.
On the survey, there was a pretty even split between people who preferred online and hybrid, but opposite to me, hybrid was slightly more preferred. Although hybrid is basically online with in-person aspects, it should be better than fully online. However, after this term, I think that the complications caused in using the technology for hybrid, as well as needing to have the attention both for students in person and those online, hybrid is just over complicated. Online just has to worry about the online students, and technical difficulties are restricted to Blackboard, and their own personal computer, both of which professors have already had some experience in. Additionally, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be more affordable for Kettering. Instead of spending their resources on high quality 2 axis camera and technical assistants, they would just need to purchase tablets. Both hybrid and online took a whole term to transition, and even then, the improvements made for online were significantly better. In a time where paying attention to classes is a major challenge, easy and accessible resources become significantly more valuable. Even on this front, notes from the lecture are immensely more valuable than re-watching a lecture searching for a specific section you missed.
Considering that both online and hybrid are brand new to Kettering, Pass/Fail, or some other alternative accommodation should be considered. In the survey, at the time of publishing this article, everyone agreed that Pass/Fail should be offered this term, and 78% would use it. 80% of those students understand the consequences, and only one student did not understand. I think it is already clear in my opinion on the matter, but I would like to share with you some views of some of our classmates.
“The difficulty of having all the students who were born and worked into an in-class system and having them transition to online put students way out of their working habits. I’ve heard from multiple students saying on some of the less interactive or less interesting classes they couldn’t focus and ended up leaving them in the background while they did something else causing their grade to suffer. Since students were taken out of their working environment they should not and can not be graded on a scale that is based on their best study zone and mindset.”
“Hybrid courses complicate assignments and due dates worse than normal. Also, group projects are more difficult to work on. Fully online or fully in person is the best way to go. I, like many other students, have also found the current situation much more difficult to work with and have had grades suffer drastically.”
“Although I wouldn’t use it, I know others are having a very difficult time learning in this environment. Office hours aren’t as beneficial when you aren’t one on one, and in person with the professor. It is hard to get help when you can’t sit down and talk things through with someone in person. Those that have learning disabilities are at a disadvantage compared to others because they are used to learning in a particular environment and that has been changed.”
“Obviously everyone is having a horrible time dealing with everything going outside of school. Kettering should be taking that into consideration.”
“Kettering should absolutely offer pass fail for this term. The most recent B-Section academic term had this option. I am a B-Section student who temporarily transferred to A-Section to do a consecutive academic term. I was expecting things to go better during A-Section since this was the second term that Kettering has offered virtual class delivery. However, setup was slow and it wasn’t until week two that everything was set up. Since this term still wasn’t as good as it could have been, those who would want a pass and fail option should be allowed to choose this option. It is more work for Kettering to offer this, however, current classes are still being effected by the pandemic and therefore shouldn’t require letter grades especially if the student accepts the consequences of converting their term grades to pass/fail.”
“I don’t learn in either a hybrid or online environment, but at least online is easier. So why not pass/fail?”