As the United States continues to deal with an ever-worsening pandemic, University students anxiously await details on the upcoming semester and what the return to Grounds will look like. Questions about how classes will be administered safely in-person are at the front of many students' minds. The University has already released that some larger classes will be held online and that students will have the opportunity to not return to Grounds and take their classes online if they wish. Every classroom will be set up for both in class learning and online learning. There are numerous questions about how this will work, especially for classes with discussion or lab sections.
With instructors having to deal with both in-person and online instruction at the same time, those students who are using virtual instruction may have a more difficult time interacting with the class. This seems to place the students who are worried about the virus or who are immunocompromised in unfair circumstances. Because of the issues that come with having to switch to online instruction, the University should continue offering a credit/no credit grading policy.
We saw last semester how much better students learn when they are actually on Grounds. It is all too easy to get distracted at home or turn off your Zoom lecture and go to sleep. Students miss out on valuable face-to-face time — not only with their instructor, but with other students as well. This time could easily make or break a grade in a class. In-person interaction offers numerous advantages — from in-person office hours, to asking questions in class, to student study groups. Discussion and participation are a vital part of many classes at the University. Questions remain on how instructors will be able to measure in-person participation versus online participation. How do you engage in a classroom discussion that encompasses both the students in the actual classroom and the students online? This is a recipe for unfair grading and disproportionate circumstances.
The opportunity for disproportionate circumstances are great. Personally, when I was forced to go home during the past semester, I was in a completely different time zone. My 8 a.m. classes suddenly became 5 a.m. classes. This is even worse for international students. Access to internet also varies from student to student. Some students may have wonderful access while others have to travel to the local library — which may or may not be open due to COVID-19 — in order to attend class. Students may also not have a home life that is conducive to studying or be forced into bad home situations.
As some students — and some entire classes — are still online, much of the University community is still going to struggle with the issues that come with virtual instruction. Due to this, the University should implement the same grading policy that it had before. A credit/no credit grading policy levels the playing field. This is still not the academic environment that students signed up for when we chose to attend the University. Until we have all the proper tools and resources to learn properly again, the grading policy should remain as credit/no credit. This change is even more necessary now that some students will be online while others are not, leading to further unequal learning opportunities for students. This semester will continue to be a learning curve. As professors and students alike navigate how to approach this new and confusing semester, the grading policy should reflect the unprecedented learning environment students have been forced into.
Further, we cannot ignore the likelihood of a spike in the University and Charlottesville community, with thousands of students from all over the world returning to Grounds. There is a high likelihood of students having to switch to online classes on a case by case basis. If this is the case, students will have to deal with the personal disruption of having to go online themselves. This also could lead to entire classes and groups of students having to switch online or return home. Students learning from home face their own issues that affect their academic performance — difficult family situations, a lack of space for studying and differences in time zones can all have negative consequences on a student's ability to learn.
We are still in the midst of a global pandemic, and there is no denying that this will have an effect on the academic performance and lives of students at the University. Due to numerous unknowns about the future and opportunities certainly being inequitable, the pandemic grading policy should remain the same as the previous semester. Students should have the option to either take a grade or take a credit/no credit option. This would allow for flexibility as the University community continues to navigate this new world we live in.
Devan Coombes is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.