Online versus in-person classes: what do students and staff at Whatcom prefer?

Earlier this year, WCC was forced to move online for classes due to Covid-19. After two full quarters and a dramatic change in class structure, what do the students and staff at WCC prefer? Online or in person classes?

 “In person! Connecting and creating a dynamic, shared learning space is easier when we’re face to face.” answered Melanie Sehman, an Associate Professor who has been working at WCC since 2013.

“With in-person classes, it’s easier to provide immediate feedback for students and answer questions right away.” she explains.

Sehman continues, “The biggest difficulty with online classes is, and has been the fact that I (and many faculty like me, who have families) are trying to balance educating our own children at home while teaching full time as well. This is a real issue that affects mostly women and was present before COVID, but now is exacerbated by the pandemic. It is equally challenging for students with families as well.”

“Online classes take significantly more time to prepare, so I often feel like I have time to either prepare new content, teach live zoom sessions or provide meaningful feedback to students, but not all three.” Sherman added. She reasons that when students are prepared and self-motivated, online classes can work well.

“I prefer online classes,” said full time student Nathaniel Martens, “because I am great at teaching myself and I enjoy the flexibility that online classes provide.”

Nathaniel has been attending Whatcom Community College for eight years, and is currently a tutor at the Math Center. Even though he prefers online classes, he explains that there are some disadvantages and challenges.

When asked about the challenges of online classes, Martens explained, “The biggest challenge is scanning and printing work to turn in or work on.” He also said, that with this means of education, it’s harder to show work and ask for help. Therefore, it can be a disadvantage compared to in person classes. This is very understandable since all class communication is through canvas, email, phone, or zoom.

This is very similar to what running start student Ian Meyer stated. Ian is fairly new to WCC, and has been attending for 2-3 months.

 Meyers explained some cons of online classes being, “…help is limited… Communication with peers is nonexistent… Getting setup having no idea what was going on.”

He prefers in person over online classes for its readily available help and community. “Better access to help and better community…” Ian reinforced his point saying, “…help is right there, peers are around to help and work with you.”

It’s safe to say that the majority prefers in person classes over online classes. This is because it requires a greater level of self-discipline and that there is a lack of easy access to help.

However, as we can see with some students, the flexibility that online classes can provide is perfect for those with a tight schedule. In-person classes overall, provide the best access to help and community that any student may require. 


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