The search for a new “normal”: In-person vs. online classes

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

The start of the new school year has without a doubt been an adjustment for everyone on campus. Whether you’re a first year coming to college for the very first time, a second or third year who has never experienced in-person classes or a fourth year who feels like their college experience has flown by, being on campus this fall in a quasi-pandemic state has been strange to say the least and no one has a true sense of “normal.”

In the 2020-2021 school year, Georgia Tech defied the odds of a successful pandemic school year with the help of regular COVID-19 testing, social distancing measures and the transition to an online learning format.

Despite all of the challenges thrown at us, Tech persevered, and life on campus molded its own new “normal” that has now left students and staff with the realization that traditional in-person classes may not always be the best learning environment as we had previously thought.

With the online class format, Tech students were allowed more flexibility and personalization in their schedules that had never before been available pre-pandemic.

The ability to take classes wherever you would like, whether it be in your bedroom, at the CULC with friends or sitting in a hammock on Tech Green, was a positive result of online learning that decreased students’ stress-levels of having to plan out time in their day to walk across campus to physically get to class on time, not to mention the anxieties that come along with sitting in a large lecture hall or asking a question in class.

It also created new study habits, such as rewatching lectures and pausing to take notes, that have allowed for students to learn at their own pace and are more mindful of the way that different students learn best.

Additionally, the online format broke barriers by opening up opportunities for students to get more involved with campus organizations that were previously unattainable due to location, in-person scheduling conflicts or transportation issues.

The need to physically be at a location to engage in an activity is now out of question, and this newfound accessibility can be extended to propagating education to people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. Online learning leveled the playing field for students and ultimately redefined what a quality education at Georgia Tech looks like, which is something that we as an institution should keep in mind going forward.

Of course, there were some downsides to last year’s online learning. Staring at a screen all day was draining, and students not having a routine place to be can leave some feeling unmotivated to leave their dorm or apartment. It was often hard to focus in class and motivation to attend and keep up with lectures dwindled as the year went on.

Mental health declined across the overall student body, as students felt more isolated than ever— many didn’t know anyone in their online classes and were never given an opportunity to learn the names and faces of their peers, which left them feeling disconnected from those around them and from Tech as a whole.

Now that classes are back in person, there is still some confusion as to what guidelines are put in place and how to go about searching for normalcy again. Unlike last year where masks wearing was strictly enforced, masks are merely “suggested” this semester, which has led to division across the student body and staff due to differences in comfort-levels, beliefs and courtesy of others.

It has also been challenging for students learning to adjust when it feels like there is no clear path, goal or campus unity guiding us in the right direction.

With everyone having different expectations of how the school year is going to look like, Tech is faced with yet another challenge of how to go about providing a quality, inclusive education and college experience that is mindful of the diversity of experiences and comfort-levels of its community at large.

While neither in-person nor online classes seem to be the perfect solution, a proposed hybrid class mode could act as a potential transition period that will give the Tech community time to adjust and come together again for a better future.

The Consensus Opinion reflects the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of the Technique, but not necessarily the opinions of individual editors.