I am writing about the changes from in-person classes to online classes at Napa Valley College (NVC) and its impact on student learning and mental health.
It made sense to move classes from in-person to online during the height of the pandemic, but the pandemic is now manageable with safety precautions (masks and vaccines) in place, but yet NVC continues to hold many of its classes online. The K-12 schools have all gone back to in-person instruction, many jobs have moved or are in the process of moving back to the office and critical jobs continue to see clients in person.
I contacted several college officials to find out the rationale for the college’s steadfast investment in offering the majority of its classes online. Here are some of the reasons and statements from college officials that I have heard: “Students are having problems with transportation and gas.” “Class size was too small.” “There’s technical problems for in-person, so until those problems get resolved, the class will meet online.” “Office hours will only be on Zoom to accommodate online students.” “Online classes fill up quicker.” “Online classes are more popular.” “Students want and need the flexibility of online classes." “Students have to juggle work, family and school.” The reasons or excuses are never ending!
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It’s no surprise that our educators did not say “online classes are better for students’ mental health” or “online learning is superior to in-person learning,” because we know it’s not true, but yet they are in the field of educating students!
Studies show that students learn best by being educated in person. A perfect example are the recent test scores of K-12 grades in which student’s test scores significantly declined as a result of online education. Students taking online classes are typically less attentive, more distracted, tend to multitask during online classes, and the class is often competing with other responsibilities. Some students only have a cell phone to use for online classes and some students share a room with siblings who are also online, along with their parents who are continuing to work from home. How can this atmosphere be better than attending a class at the college where there is an in-person professor, a specific time and a space dedicated and conducive to academic learning?
In addition, the development of social skills and meaningful relationships are greatly impacted by only offering online classes. Our young people are more isolated than ever before. Some students can’t even identify one friend that they would contact if they needed help. Many students have become accustomed to online learning and don’t want to leave the comfort zone of their bedroom and interact with “real people.” How is this form of instruction going to prepare them for the real world? Are the dorms that are in the process of being built going to have students sitting in their dorm rooms “attending” classes? Going to in-person classes requires a shower, getting dressed, getting all of your materials prepared for class, all of this increases self-confidence, academic intention and a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
I believe online instruction has also eroded student-teacher relationships. In-person instruction fosters positive working relationships between students and teachers and often leads to an increase in self-confidence, academic success and mentorship. Given all of these factors, are we willing to take a gamble on this generation of adults? Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
NVC has been laser focused in mitigating the dangers and risks of COVID-19, however, I believe the mental health of its students has been severely neglected. Mental health disorders such as anxiety, learning disorders, depression, OCD, ADHD, substance abuse and suicide have soared, while therapy, counseling and treatment for mental health disorders have plummeted. Trying to get a therapy appointment for individual therapy is very challenging and expensive. Oftentimes, people are left without services or directed to group treatment for several hours a week with poor results.
I have to wonder, is it really the students who demand online learning or is it the professors who don’t want to teach students in person? There are many students who learn better by in-person instruction, there are many students who want to have the “college experience” without going away to college and there are many students who love learning and greatly miss the traditional and time tested method of receiving their education in person. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that if we continue this form of instruction, there will be no need for a brick and mortar Napa Valley College. Does NVC want to compete with the onslaught of online colleges or carve out a niche of providing a quality in-person education to the Napa community?
On behalf of many NVC students, please provide more in-person classes for the upcoming semesters.