Virtual Experience can’t duplicate the concrete college atmosphere
“This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.” Some of us here at Fresno Pacific might recognize these famous lines from T.S. Elliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”. We may have analyzed the poem for a college class, read it in high school, or even caught it in our free time. Our situation in the virtual learning space may not be quite as dire as Elliot’s end of the world, but how often do we actually stop and think about what we’re missing in the current college climate? Whether we know it or not, the students here are faced with a serious dilemma of not just missing out on social interactions, but also being at risk for potentially sub-optimal learning conditions than in the past. What is college without the campus?
If you ask anyone, a large part of the college experience is friends, parties and living on campus. Fresno Pacific is not the worldwide party school of college tales, that is true, but no one else offers quite the sense of being and community that it does. In my time at Fresno Pacific a large part of my experience was walking to and from classes, back to my college house on Heaton, seeing other students studying in the Forest, hearing the passing conversation of my fellow students and professors, and interacting with the people I had come to call peers and friends. This is what’s missing: this level of positive uncertainty, the potential for surprise in the physical environment of a college campus. You can’t be surprised by running into a good friend between classes, or a sudden chat with a professor buying coffee, because there is no in-between anymore. Most of what creates the college campus experience is often not realized until it’s gone, because it truly is the little things that make the greater difference.
Yet there is a threat far greater than just the lack of social interactions. God bless our professors here at Fresno Pacific, for they go above and beyond the call to teach. They work tirelessly to grant us every possible opportunity to exceed, even when it seems the world itself is pushing against you. To put it simply, online education and in-person education are two very different beasts to tackle. With online education there are new tools, new methods and new disciplines that one must suddenly excel in. I am not saying that online education isn’t a valuable resource, or even an inefficient way to learn and teach, but it doesn’t allow for the same level of quality that you would receive in an in-person class. The professors do the best they can, but the bottom line is that those not as familiar with online learning will suffer a decrease in the overall quality of their education. It proves that there is an impact on how we learn; that even having access to the same quality of content as taught in personal learning environments is not enough. Network connection, audio and video quality, to say nothing of local and virtual distractions, are all our responsibility.
Classes aren’t just sitting in a room with a bunch of other students anymore. It’s more akin to sitting in a room, while sitting in a room, with a bunch of other students who are also all sitting in their own distinct rooms. The level of attention fragmentation that comes with online learning is on a whole other level. We worry about how we look, how we sound, and we deal with the temptation to access the world of the internet. Whether or not your dog decides to jump on you, we deal with all of that, except multiplied by the number of video screens and students in the class. Humans, and especially students, are curious individuals. We want to see everything. If there’s a poster hanging in the back of someone’s room, you bet we’re going to pause to look at it.
Let us take one last look at that quote from before: While the world may not be actually ending, for some Fresno Pacific students out there, this is their last semester in college -and their experience is exactly as T.S. Elliot describes. Without a campus experience, this final semester is not going to feature a grand graduation celebration, or last walk through the college campus or even a final meal with friends in the café. A simple click of the button and the image on their desktop background. A whimper indeed.
Authors: Janelle Fontaine & Shawn McCurry