After six academic terms of remote learning, Drexel finally plans to return to a fully-opened campus this fall — with necessary COVID precautions, of course. For many students, this means an end to a lonely, Zoom-fatigued era of online classes. However, the sudden switch to remote learning meant Drexel had to make many changes to its academic procedures. And some of those changes were very welcome!
In fact, this reopening of campus may be the reset we need. It’s a chance to reevaluate our academic standards, get rid of rigid and outdated traditions, and embrace new accessibilities.
One such benefit is having online resources for classes. This doesn’t just entail hosting classes via Zoom; it also includes recorded lectures, PowerPoints and other notes available online, discussion boards for conversing with classmates, and online textbooks. This accessibility benefits students of all abilities and studying styles.
For students with disabilities, this is even more impactful. Before the pandemic, universities were required to provide necessary accommodations — provided those accommodations were not a large obstacle for the university. The Drexel University policy specifically states: “A modification or adjustment is not reasonable if it imposes an undue burden on the University or fundamentally alters an educational program.”
While it’s fair for the university to set boundaries, these limits have been a barrier for students with disabilities. It seemed especially unfair when online accommodations were provided university-wide as soon as the pandemic hit. Now that face-to-face classes are returning, it’s possible that this flexibility will disappear as well, despite having widespread benefits for the whole student body.
There is no reason for that to be the case. Ashley Brickley, director of the disability center at the University of Missouri, told the New York Times in an Aug. 23 article that “the idea of remote instruction as an accommodation is something that’s newer from the pandemic.” That idea has the perfect chance now to be further explored — and become a reality.
Flexibility extends to the way classes are taught and graded, as well. During the pandemic, a Pass/No Pass option was given while classes were remote, except during the current summer term. Similarly, many professors were more lenient about technical issues and grading options. It makes sense for academic standards to adjust during times of uncertainty, but having compassion and empathy for individual situations should not be a pandemic phenomenon.
Complete remote options have also found a place in the academic world.
For example, standardized tests moved online over the past few months. Giving students the option to take the GRE at home was an overdue necessity, and it is likely here to stay. Even more encouraging, many universities have reevaluated the necessity of standardized testing at all. Graduate school programs in Drexel and across the country stopped requiring GRE scores during the pandemic and will likely keep that decision in place.
The remote terms also had some benefits for campus life. Student organizations had to adjust just as quickly to the pandemic, but the online accessibility also meant more options for participation. At Drexel especially, students may find it hard to stay engaged during co-op or study abroad programs. With the switch to remote meetings, these students had the opportunity to continue participating while being away from campus.
While many aspects of in-person learning have been dearly missed, there are plenty of changes from remote learning that were welcomed and long overdue. Drexel and other academia, in general, should take this opportunity to reconstruct its system, keeping in place the accessibility and flexibility from online classes even as campus reopens.