A college education is not only about classes, but also about personal interaction among students and between students and faculty. Universities should exercise ingenuity and aim to resume in-person classes.
With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, universities have focused on remote learning. In response to the recent renewed spread of infections, a number of universities will in principle use remote classes even beyond this autumn.
Unlike elementary, junior high and high schools, which have resumed in-person classes, some universities have lectures in which hundreds of students gather in a single room. Many students are involved in a wide range of activities, including part-time work and club activities. Universities are obviously reluctant to resume in-person classes over fears of an emergence of cluster infections among students.
According to a survey of university students, some responded with positive views on remote learning such as, “I was able to study at my own pace,” while others gave negative views, such as it is “hard to concentrate” in remote classes, which are providing “low-quality” lessons.
There is a concern that remote classes could lead to a decline in the motivation to learn. Teachers need to become more proficient in teaching methods and operating equipment that are appropriate for online use.
On a more serious note, there is a noticeable increase in the isolation of students who are unable to make trusting friends with upperclassmen and classmates.
Some freshmen are stuck at home all the time, unable to visit school even once. It is hoped that universities will proactively listen to students about their situations and try to alleviate their anxiety.
In-person teaching is essential for science and engineering departments as well as art-related departments that require laboratory work and hands-on lessons. The problem has also arisen that it is difficult to evaluate and certify credits through remote classes alone.
Some universities have divided students into groups and offer small in-person classes. It can be possible to work out that large classes will be held remotely while in-person classes will be conducted in small groups.
Each university needs to use the best combination of remote and in-person learning based on its size and characteristics. It is hoped that improvements will be made as soon as possible to address the inability of students to participate in club and extracurricular activities.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has issued a notice to universities urging them to offer in-person classes from the upcoming semester of the school year. Education minister Koichi Hagiuda has criticized universities, saying: “Elementary and junior high schools are also coming up with ways. I don’t think it’s a good idea for universities to be only ones to close their campuses.”
Only 15% of universities have opened all their facilities. Others must take measures to prevent infection at such facilities as libraries, cafeterias and study areas and gradually widen the opening of facilities.
It is also a university’s role to encourage students to take prudent behavior such as refraining from parties with alcohol, and to provide appropriate information on class policies and scholarships.
The future of the infection situation will continue to be unpredictable. It is important to be prepared to flexibly deal with the changing situation.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 16, 2020.