Opinion

Brandt: Classes migrate to web after winter weather

Professors are increasingly holding class online during snow days.

Joe BrandtIt’s been a crazy winter. Temple has canceled classes for Main Campus three days this semester, delayed opening three times and closed early three times, all due to snow. Many students spent those days frolicking and making snowmen, but that may soon be a thing of the past. 

Some professors, particularly those in the most-delayed morning classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, have decided to hold class online to make up for lost ground.

The primary threat to North Philadelphia’s population of snowmen is not mischief-makers, but rather a teleconferencing service called WebEx Communications Inc., which some Temple professors use to hold the online classes.

WebEx is provided by the networking corporation Cisco Systems Inc., which in recent years has been sued for antitrust lawsuits and condemned for allegedly helping the Chinese government censor its Internet. It is also known for making cheap and nearly-ubiquitous desk telephones.

A student taking a class on WebEx is emailed a link to a video chat with the professor and other students. When the professor asks questions, students can raise their online “hand” and be called on. The professor can also require students to click a green check to make sure they understand the lesson. If not, the student can click the red “X” instead.

Responses are mixed on the program’s effectiveness.

“Colleges and universities can provide rich online environments for learning and collaboration that engage students beyond the boundaries of the traditional brick-and-mortar campus,” according to WebEx’s website.

There are two problems with that statement: multiple students have reported that the environment is not always rich and the technology does not always cooperate.

“When you’re online, it’s just more separated,” Hunter Decker, a freshman architecture major, said. Decker took English 802 online last semester.

While some in-person lessons would be crippled by a lack of functioning technology, all online classes would. All of the students reached for this article said their online class was disrupted regularly due to technical difficulties on one end or another.

Freshman business education major Jade Byrd said it has been difficult for her online class’ professor to deal with technology issues.

“He tries, but sometimes it’s pointless and he just gives us credit and lets us go early,” Byrd said.

“To start the semester, we didn’t really get much work done due to technical difficulties,” freshman art major Andrea Dougherty said of her online English 802 class. “It took a few weeks to get a feel for the software and become comfortable with it.”

All new ideas are expected to go through growing pains, but this might be too much. Is it really worth it to try to replace a real class with a shoddy online effort if it interrupts what could be a therapeutic day of warm mittens and hot cocoa?

“Since the class was in the morning, I got it out of the way and was able to enjoy my day off,” sophomore speech, language and hearing science major Georjenna Gatto said in an email.

But if students have class online all day, is it still going to be enjoyable? During a stressful week, snow days can be a godsend.

“A mental health day can provide a much-needed break to pause, regroup and come back with greater levels of energy and a fresh, less-stressed perspective,” said wellness coach Elizabeth Scott.

A snow day is a freer kind of mental health day, since lots of people are taking it at once.

I worry for the future of the snow day. I am worried that Main Campus will one day be absent of snowmen, snow forts, snowball fights and the like, since students will be too busy with the same old routine – and some might just be ready to tear their hair out.

Joe Brandt can be reached at joseph.brandt@temple.edu or on Twitter @JBrandt7.

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