The Washington Post
August 2, 2020 | 10:34 am
Colleges are rolling out new technology for a predominantly online semester that starts in August, but these efforts are unlikely to impress students who pay tens of thousands of dollars for in-person instruction.
The University of Michigan will provide stronger Wi-Fi and new cloud storage accounts to help students learn on campus while maintaining social distance. The University of Southern California is planning virtual 3D labs for some science classes, while the University of California at Berkeley is providing laptops, webcams, and headphones to thousands of students in need.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the United States, many schools are permanently planning to hold classes virtually this fall. Admins have addressed complaints about learning to lock in the past semester and are leveraging technology to try and improve the experience. Students doubt that online learning will pass what is shaping up to be the toughest test in the industry to date.
“Online courses suck and no technology can fix that,” said Annie Tsan, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Without the technological updates that make the online classroom more accessible and enjoyable, there is no guarantee that students will stay in their institutions. Some envision a semester or two, withholding tuition or making a transfer. This risks another blow to an higher education sector that was already struggling financially before the pandemic.
“70% of our income comes from tuition, room and board,” said Zach Messitte, president of Ripon College in Wisconsin. “If 30% of our students decide not to come back, it’s just a huge loss of income. This will have an impact on the income of schools across the country. “
The University of Michigan’s new Wi-Fi shows the potential and pitfalls of this college-driven technology. There will be more bandwidth and the Wi-Fi signal will be extended with additional routers, so even without in-person classes Michigan is hoping students will come to campus. One proposal even encourages students to park at the college and turn their cars into makeshift study rooms.
“I don’t think this will have as much of an impact as they think it will,” said Nicholas Silk, a senior in Michigan. “Most people who live on or off campus already have Wi-Fi in their residences. Besides, I don’t even have a car. I won’t be sitting outside of a building just to use campus Wi-Fi. “
Michigan has also partnered with Zoom Video Communications Inc. and Canvas, a learning management system from Instructure Inc., to enable automated transcription during videoconferencing classes. This will help students to follow lessons more easily in real time and allow them to refer to the material after the lesson is finished. Students will also have access to cloud storage from Dropbox Inc. and Creative Cloud software from Adobe Inc. for video and audio editing.
The University of Southern California at Los Angeles is teaming up with startup Labster ApS to provide virtual reality science labs to students. The labs will work the same as the flight simulators, but will be accessible remotely via a laptop. Students can use Facebook Inc.’s Oculus VR headsets to access the labs, although this device is not required. Labster’s 3D labs focus on biology and cover dissections, medical diagnostic procedures, field sampling and other processes. Chemistry students will use VR software from startup Beyond Labz.
Schools are also using technology to keep poorer students connected. The University of California at Berkeley has set aside more than $ 4 million to provide approximately 3,300 laptops, 800 Wi-Fi access points, webcams and headphones in August for those who qualify for a new program. technological equity for students.
The University of California at Irvine has sent nearly 300 students laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots. Almost 40% of those who attend college are eligible for federal Pell Grants which are awarded to low applicants. returned. Tom Andriola, director of system information at the University of California, hopes this effort will bring “equity in terms of the ability to access the Internet and watch a conference live, or access systems.” .
However, schools are often chosen based on physical resources, such as halls of residence, research labs, and multimedia production studios. For students who rely on these strengths, faster Wi-Fi, a free laptop, and virtual reality may not be enough. Although some universities, like Princeton and Harvard, have offered tuition discounts, many schools still expect students to pay the full amount. Some schools, like USC, even announced tuition fee increases before posting their plans to go live.
A number of students are still deciding whether it is worth taking courses this fall. “If I don’t have access to the resources that make USC, USC, there’s no reason I should pay full price to basically go to school in my living room,” said Casey Gardner, a senior drama student at the school.
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