El Camino College is planning a 50-50 split in enrollment this fall semester.
Students, administrators, and faculty have been actively debating how best to move forward with in-person and online learning.
Proponents of virtual, blended, and physical learning each have valid arguments as to why their modality is the most beneficial, but amid the confusion and argument, the reality is that online learning is here to stay. El Camino for the foreseeable future.
At the start of the Spring 2022 semester, many in-person classes were discontinued or converted to online due to missing expectations for in-person registration, which surprised many faculty and administrators.
Vice President of Academic Affairs Jacquelyn Sims said the school expects an enrollment split of 75% in-person and hybrid and 25% online this spring.
Shortly after student enrollment began, El Camino discovered that students preferred online classes more than expected.
So the administration of El Camino pivoted, and Sims said the college decided to offer an equal split of 50% online classes and 50% in-person classes this spring and fall semester for s Ensuring students enroll in classes and engage with academic content.
Yun Chu, a psychology professor at El Camino since 2014, thinks these enrollment trends are here to stay.
“I think the pre-covid modes of course delivery and in-person enrollment will not return to pre-covid numbers because this is a ‘new generation’ of students…These students are at the comfortable and accustomed to online learning,” Chu said.
Online classes are popular with students because they add freedom to their schedules since many students have jobs, are parents, and have significant responsibilities. Students have the option of attending synchronous Zoom meetings throughout the week or working completely asynchronously at their own pace.
“There’s so much more flexibility and equity with online learning,” Chu said.
However, many faculty and students are concerned about student learning in the online modality because it is easy for students to get distracted, cheat, and just not learn. Many believe that it is much more difficult to achieve a virtual university community and collaboration than in person.
Evelyn Uyemura, an ESL teacher and faculty member since 1985, thinks online discussions and interactions are nothing like what they were when students physically discussed the novel they were reading.
“I can ask students to share a thought on a discussion board, but in terms of student interaction and discussions, I haven’t been able to make them happen online the way I do. they would be in person,” Uyemura said. “There are definitely advantages to being online: it’s easier for me and for the students. But is it so much to learn? I don’t think it’s for me and the student.
These concerns among faculty are not limited to the humanities and discussion-oriented courses. Lars Kjeseth, a math teacher at El Camino since 2000, says teaching and learning online is harder than in person for those studying “STEM subjects.”
“I feel like as a math teacher it was very, very difficult when I was purely online to see what my students were thinking and to assess their work,” Kjeseth said.
Dr. Kjeseth looks forward to teaching in person this fall and interacting with his students.
“I really miss going to the [white]board,” Kjeseth said. “As a math teacher, I can say that the idea of creating a space where students are in community with each other and learn from each other is much more difficult to achieve online.”
Speaking to both Sims and Chu, it was revealed that online enrollment has increased significantly more in humanities, social studies, and general education courses compared to STEM courses.
This feeling is shared by some students like Nina Saadeh, a 24-year-old who is currently completing her second bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.
“I think the online connection should be kept for classes like sociology and English, but for other things like chemistry, biology, math, and classes that need hands-on help and more support should stay in person. I don’t think it’s worth coming to campus for sociology since it’s not my major and doesn’t require lab work,” Saadeh said.
Asked about the problem of diminished learning and student success in an online learning environment, Sims explained that there is comprehensive training for teachers to ensure high-quality virtual education.
“When we had to shelter in place and went remote, for many of us we never had any training at all. What does an online course look like? How do you engage students online? How do you make sure they are participating and not cheating? Sims asked. “But luckily we have a great training session on online and digital education and now all teachers who want to teach online should take our training on how to teach online.”
As the former Dean of Mathematical Sciences, Sims added half-jokingly that “students should also have a bit more training in terms of discipline to be a good online student”. But when it comes to online college, it actively pursues student success and learning through different modalities.
“We care deeply about student success. The fall semester we start 50-50 and research and trends will help us go in any direction,” Sims said.