November 11, 2021

AGGARWAL | To Lose or Not to Lose $400

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I woke up with a sore throat this morning — faced with the decision of either weathering through my two lectures or letting $400 worth of tuition go to waste. 

Prior to the pandemic, this was an accepted notion — and justifiably so. There wasn’t the online infrastructure that was built in the past year and a half, so no reliable alternative existed. Now, it is outrageous that classes are not guaranteed to have an online alternative, especially for students who may be quarantining after a COVID infection or exposure. After all, we are still very much in a public health crisis — on Nov. 5, there were 91,782 new COVID cases and 2,315 deaths recorded due to coronavirus in the United States. 

Yet, beside the mask mandate and surveillance testing, campus happenings have ostensibly returned to normal. Classes are largely in-person, student events are back in fervor and social life is centered around anything but distancing. In our rush to return to “normalcy” — to the pre-pandemic lifestyle — we forgot to carry some of the valuable lessons we learned through our  adjustments to the pandemic into our  vaccinated, current day. 

Instead of exclusively committing in either direction, Cornell should invest in a hybrid learning environment that provides a quality higher education for students in both an online or on-campus setting. While there are surely improvements to be made to this experience to ensure that students are learning and excelling, we are closer now than ever before to having the tools in our arsenal to create this hybrid environment. And, the benefits of such an environment are undeniable.

Firstly, having both in-person and online options for classes eradicates the downfalls of pre-enroll. In the current (and pre-pandemic system), you would be hard pressed to find a swath of students who did not have to compromise on their intended class roster in some way — either due to class caps, conflicting time slots or just missing pre-enroll altogether. With a hybrid learning environment, students could truly prioritize their educational goals and reduce any roadblocks that stand in the way of them learning their desired skills.

Additionally, a hybrid learning environment empowers the student; it replenishes their agency and centers them as the primary decision-maker in our educational setting. Students could focus on optimizing their schedule and learning environment for their own circumstances. 

Perhaps some students would like to prioritize online classes because it allows them to learn asynchronously, which they have found to be a more effective path for their own process. On the other hand, the students who really prefer in-person classes can retain those options and continue with their class structure as they did before the pandemic forced otherwise. Lastly, other students could choose some kind of mix between the two — taking some classes online and asynchronously, but also maintaining some in-person courses. 

The benefits to a perpetual hybrid learning environment reach far beyond just student preferences, though. It would also give students some flexibility to work around their own schedules — encouraging them to pursue extracurricular and research activities. Students could attend a research conference or participate in an important dance competition or any activity that takes them away from campus without worry of missed class time. Even more exciting, students would be empowered to lead more full lives, integrating more choice into their days and allowing them to find their own structure.

In addition to being able to invest more into their Cornell and Ithaca communities, students would be able to maintain connections to their other communities more easily, as well. Visiting family or friends would not be such a burdensome task and most importantly, it would give students the choice to align their priorities with their schedules because the hybrid learning environment provides some much-needed flexibility.

I am not unaware of the drawbacks of such a proposal. It would require significant administrative support and funding to formalize such a system. But, with the work Cornell has done to provide a valuable, seamless online education during the pandemic, I have no doubt a hybrid learning environment would be an attainable endeavor. And, while there is such a thing as too much choice, especially for college students, these past couple of years have also shown us that we need to be prepared for the unimaginable. Most people are anticipating the workplace to remain largely hybrid; our education should account for that.

While many — myself included — are incredibly happy to be returning to in-person festivities, classes, social gatherings and all, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the many benefits of online learning. As we move forward, we should not let the rush towards “normalcy” mask the lessons learned from the pandemic itself. It wasn’t all bad.

Somil Aggarwal is a senior in the College of Engineering studying Computer Science. He can be reached at [email protected]print(“Somil”) runs every other Wednesday this semester.